Page last updated at 09:56 GMT, Monday, 29 September 2008 10:56 UK

'Angry' voters aid Austrian right

By Bethany Bell
BBC News, Vienna

Leader of the Austrian Freedom Party, Heinz-Christian Strache (left) and Alliance for the Future of Austria leader Joerg Haider in Vienna (28/09/2008)
Mr Strache (left) and Mr Haider have had bitter feuds in the past

Austria's voters are angry and it shows.

Together the two parties of the far right - the Freedom Party and the Alliance for the Future of Austria - have gained 29% of the vote, according to preliminary official election results.

That is less than one percentage point behind the Social Democrats, who came in first place.

It is an even bigger victory than in 1999 when the far right Freedom Party shocked Europe by winning 27%. It then went on to gain a place in government for the first time.

"Angry voters vote for angry parties," writes the Standard newspaper.

While traditional far-right themes such as anti-EU and anti-immigration feelings have contributed to the success of the Freedom Party and the Alliance, most observers agree the result is due to deep frustration with the Social Democrats and the conservative People's Party.

Some observers argue that the far right is more contained when it is in power as a junior coalition partner

Apart from a series of coalitions between the conservatives and the far right between 2000 and 2006, the Social Democrats and the People's Party have run Austria since World War Two.

But their last grand coalition was paralysed by internal fights and personal feuds.

It finally collapsed this summer after just 18 months in power, triggering the early elections.

Party pact

Austrian Social Democrat chairman Werner Faymann in Vienna (28/09/2008)
Social Democrats have ruled out a deal with the far right so far
Support for the centre left and centre right has slumped to its lowest level since 1945.

But the election result leaves Austrian politics in turmoil.

Coalition talks are likely to be long and complicated.

The Social Democrats are expected to be asked by Austria's president to form the next government.

They have so far ruled out any deals with the far right.

The most obvious solution would be another grand coalition with the conservative People's Party - something that most Austrians do not want.

The conservatives, who scored 25%, say they will consider all coalition partners, but do not want anti-EU policies.

That raises the possibility of a three-party pact, between the conservatives, the Freedom Party and the Alliance.

But there has been bitter feuding between the leaders of the two far-right parties, Joerg Haider and Heinz Christian Strache.

The Alliance, led by Mr Haider, broke away from the Freedom Party in 2005, at a time when it was part of a governing coalition with the conservatives.

Population: 8.3m
Electorate: 6.3m
16- and 17-year-old voters: 200,000
National Council seats: 183

It may not be easy for the two to patch up their differences and form a stable government.

However, while the two centrist parties may have difficulties with the idea of a pact with the far right, they realize the populist parties thrive in opposition.

If they remain out of government this time round, there is a chance they could gain even more strength at the next elections.

Some observers argue that the far right is more contained when it is in power as a junior coalition partner.

If the next Austrian government does include the far right, the outrage that followed the rise to power of the Freedom Party in 2000 is unlikely to be repeated.

Back then the EU imposed sanctions which were lifted after a few months, when officials determined that Austrian democracy was not in danger.

The far right remained part of the coalition until the last elections in 2006.

Far-right gains in Austria vote
28 Sep 08 |  Europe
Country profile: Austria
03 Jul 08 |  Country profiles

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