The Rally Cry of Xenophobic Demagogues – Alex Fanta

At least the world didn’t notice. Hours after the election results were proclaimed, the most recent article on Austria in the online New York Times was still a travel feature on Salzburg from mid-July. For those not tuning in ORF, here is a quick newsflash.

+++Ultra-right parties win general elections in Austria +++ Shambles of former major parties to continue governing +++ Israel thinking of withdrawing its diplomatic envoy (again) +++

The Social Democrats are still top with approximately thirty percent of the vote, down by five points. Their conservative coalition partners from the People’s Party were shattered and lost thirty percent of their voters, coming out with 25 points out of a hundred. The so-called Grand Coalition, formerly commanding a comfortable two-thirds majority is reduced to a slim fifty percent of seats in parliament. The Green party stagnated at 10 per cent and the hyped Liberal Forum failed to get into parliament.

Nearly a third of the electorate weighed in on the side of the right-wing Freedom Party of Heinz-Christian Strache (FPÖ), or his former boss Jörg Haider, now party leader of the Alliance for Austria’s Future (BZÖ). With a crude mix of calls for more aid to families and anti-immigrant rhetoric, the two parties differ only in name. The sheer amount of votes they managed to attract is a hard blow for those who thought the nineties’ nazi scare of the Haider years were over. The seasoned politician and present governor of the southern province Carinthia (Kärnten) became infamous for his remarks that the Third Reich “at least had proper labour policies” and his reaching out politically to veterans of the SS.

And Strache. The shots directed against Turkish and other minorities delivered victory to Strache in local elections here in 2005. Media reports and photos of Strache taking part in para-military “games” of a Nazi youth group in the early nineties did not hurt his standing among voters.

The election leaves the political landscape of Austria deeply scarred. With a twisted relationship between Social Democrats and Conservatives, it will be difficult to find a stable majority without the support of one of the ultra-right groups. Werner Fayman, leader of the Social Democrats, repeatedly told reporters that he dislikes ruling without a parliamentary majority. The last government eroded under the ultimate obstacle of finding any left-right consensus – especially on critical issues like health care and social security. But I also find it quite unlikely that the SPÖ and the FPÖ will get together as Fayman said he dislikes the FPÖ and preferred stability (a code for “grand coalition) above everything.

One thing is for sure: the forming part will take longer because we have to sit out the fight for power within the conservative party. Willi Molterer is  – after the disastrous result for the ÖVP – going to be removed and replaced with Josef Pröll, the minister of agriculture and nephew to influental province governor Erwin Pröll of Lower Austria.

It looks like more of Chancellor Gusenbauer and an interim government for the next few months.


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