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Austria - General Elections

The two major parties severely punished by the Austrians, the far right on the rise.

The two major parties severely punished by the Austrians, the far right on the rise.

29/09/2008 - Results

The country's two major political parties– the Social Democratic Party (SPÖ) and the People's Party (ÖVP) – both members of the outgoing government coalition led by Alfred Gusenbauer – were severely punished by the electorate during the general elections that took place in Austria on 28th September. The Social Democratic Party did however take the lead winning 29.71% of the vote and 58 seats (- 10 in comparison with the elections on 1st October 2006). It is followed by the People's Party led by outgoing Finance Minister Wilhelm Molterer which won 25.61% of the vote and 50 seats (-16). Both parties have fallen below the 30% threshold and jointly won 55.32% of the vote ie their lowest result ever since the birth of the Austrian Republic in 1918.
The Social Democratic Party achieved its highest scores in Burgenland (40.42%) and in Vienna (35.78%); the People's Party rose above the 30% mark in the Vorarlberg (31.07%), in the Tyrol (30.87%) and in Lower Austria (31.94%).
Both far right parties – the Liberal Party (FPÖ) and the Alliance for the Future of Austria (BZÖ) won 28.99% of the vote together ie 1.7 points above the result achieved by the Liberal Party alone in the general elections on 3rd October 1999 and well above the 15.1% that both parties won in the election on 1st October 2006. The Liberal Party led by Heinz-Christian Strache won 18.01% of the vote (35 seats, + 18); the BZÖ Jörg Haider's party won 10.98% of the vote (21 seats, +14). The BZÖ convinced nearly 4 voters in 10 in Carinthia, the Land where the party's leader is also the governor (39.41%) whilst the Liberal Party achieved its best result in Vienna (21.42%).
Finally the Greens regressed winning 9.79% of the vote and 19 seats (-2).
Turnout was 7 points less than that recorded in the general elections on October 1st 2006 and rose to 71.48%

"The far right's success is due to a feeling of frustration and mistrust towards the grand left/right coalition that governed between January 2007 and July 2008," declared Peter Filmzmaier, professor at the University of the Danube in Krems. "In Austria there is no far left populist party. As a result the protest vote is carried by the far right and this year, dissatisfaction has increased again. If you ask the voters "Do you think that your economic and social situation is better than two or three years ago?" a great majority would answer "No it is worse." This state of mind is to the advantage of the far right populist parties who maintain that foreigners and other countries are responsible for this situation," analyses the political expert.
"Collectively the main winner is the far right but that does not mean that these two parties can come together in a political partnership," declared Richard Luther, professor at Keele University in the UK. The latter privileges the hypothesis of a continuation of the grand coalition rallying the SPÖ and the ÖVP. He does note however that "it would not enjoy great legitimacy" and that "the strength of the far right parties will make it extremely difficult to form a coalition if either one or the other of these parties does not enter government."
"The perspectives of a stable government in the near future are poor," maintains political analyst Anton Pelinka. "I think that the rejection of Heinz-Christian Strache (Liberal Party leader) by both of the main parties will continue, which means that there will be no other alternative but to have a new coalition between the same two parties," he said.
"In barely three years I have succeeded in multiplying my score by 10," said a pleased Heinz-Christian Strache on the TV channel ORF after the results were announced. "I always said that a two party coalition was the most stable variation and that is the one to put forward," he said offering his services as Chancellor. "The Social Democratic Party and the People's Party have been punished and rejected. And the Social Democrats are clearly going to have to explain the reasons why they do not want to start negotiations to form another coalition other than the outgoing grand coalition," he said. "We are not excluding anything, we are open to all options if there is something in it for the Austrians," declared FPÖ Secretary General Herbert Kickl.

Jörg Haider declared that his party had become "respectable" and also stated that he wanted to take part in a future government. "No one wants the Social Democrats and the Conservatives any longer and it is our duty to find a majority together," he maintained. He said that as he had said during the electoral campaign, he wanted to remain as governor of the Land of Carinthia.

Social Democrat leader Werner Faymann will have the task of forming the next government. Arithmetic and above all political logic should lead to a renewal of the grand coalition rallying the SPÖ and the ÖVP.
"Werner Faymann will undoubtedly lead the new grand coalition but things will be difficult because the major parties seem to be the major losers in these elections," declares political analyst Thomas Hofer. "The election result shows that voters no longer have confidence in the two major parties. We are facing a real earthquake; Austrians do not think that these parties can fight against inflation or guarantee their retirement and healthcare system. Voters are in total disarray with regard to their future which has led them to vote against the grand coalition," he added.

Werner Faymann excluded any alliance with the far right parties. "I maintain our "no" to a coalition with the Liberal Party or the Alliance for the future of Austria. We want a stable wide-based government, not one that will repeatedly quarrel and which the voters do not want," he declared. "What we said before the election remains topical: there will be no coalition with the Liberal Party or the Alliance for the future of Austria," repeated SPÖ Secretary General Doris Bures when the results were announced before offering the opening of negotiations with the ÖVP in view of forming the next government.
However ÖVP leader Wilhelm Molterer indicated that he did not reject a coalition with the Liberal Party a priori, on condition that the latter renounced its opposition to the European Union. A coalition rallying both far right parties is excluded come what may since both parties detest each other more than they detest the other parties.

The programme presented a few weeks ago by Walter Faymann to improve Austrians' daily life (halving VAT on foodstuffs, abolition of university enrolment fees and an increase in pensions for the elderly and subsidies for families) together with his change of direction with regard to Europe (on 24th September the SPÖ allied with the FPÖ and the BZÖ voted in favour of a draft law stipulating that any future modification made to the European treaties affecting Austrian interests would have to be decided upon by referendum) seems to have been successful. "His campaign was openly populist copying the arguments of the far right with the aim of bringing a popular, disoriented electorate back into the Social Democratic fold; but this only worked in part and he has seriously damaged his future government credibility," declared political science professor Mario Telo when speaking about the Social Democratic leader.
Klaus Poier, political science professor at the University of Graz says that "the People's Party failed because it did not have an electoral programme adapted to the present slowing in economic growth and the rise in inflation."
On 28th September young people aged 16 to 18 were able to vote for the first time in the general elections. These new voters represented around 183,000 people ie 3% of all voters. 580,000 Austrians –ie 9.27% of the total and the double of the 2006 figure– chose to vote by proxy. The results will only be known on 6th October but should not modify the elections results significantly.

Negotiations may be long and difficult contrary to the hope of the President of the Republic Heinz Fischer who said just a few days ago that he wanted to see the formation of a new government rapidly after the election (the constitution of the previous government took 99 days). Apart from the renewal of the grand coalition (led by the SPÖ which took the lead in the elections) whose collapse was the reason for the early elections and which according to the polls has been rejected by a great majority of the Austrians, all of the other potential governments will have to include at least one of the far right parties in order to guarantee a majority in Parliament.

General election results – 28th September in Austria

Turnout: 71.48%
Source: Internet Site of the TV channel ORF (
Publishing Director: Pascale JOANNIN
The authors
Corinne Deloy
Author of the European Elections Monitor (EEM) for the Robert Schuman Foundation and project manager at the Institute for Political Studies (Sciences Po).
Fondation Robert Schuman
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