Last weekend’s elections in Austria produced a massive tidal shift of votes away from the Greens and the Socialists towards two parties of the Right. Our Austrian correspondent ESW has a report on what happened, drawn from Austrian news sources and accompanied by her own analysis.
Austria has voted — Did politicians understand the message?
Austrians are in for interesting political times: General elections this past Sunday changed Austria’s political landscape with a pull to the right.
The Social Democrats lost votes, and the Conservatives lost even more. Both can no longer be considered “forces” in the political spectrum; they are, at best, mediocre in size (29% and 25%, respectively). The Green Party has withered into irrelevance. On Sunday, party leader Alexander Van der Bellen proudly announced that he considers the Greens the last Gallic village in Austria with regard to upholding human rights (he was alluding to Asterix, the famous comic series).
The winners on this historic day were, however, the FPÖ (Freedom Party) and BZÖ (Haider’s “new” party), which together make up the right-wing parties. Heinz-Christian Strache was able to increase the number of his voters from 11% to 18%, while Haider tripled his support to 11%. And while the center-left parties pretended to be stunned, political commentators and many others were not surprised: the parties’ success had been looming for the last couple of weeks. Polls were in complete agreement about the outcome. Together FPÖ and BZÖ gathered nearly 30% of the votes.
Sunday, September 28, 2008, was probably one of the hardest days in Wilhelm Molterer’s life. In July, he called for new elections with the now famous words, “Ladies and gentlemen: Enough is enough!” He and his party were hoping to win the elections in order to regain the post of prime minister, lost after the 2006 elections.
The conservative party’s election campaign focused on budget problems, security issues, and family issues (such as additional payments to families). However, the Socialist Party, though lagging behind in early polls, was able to attract many voters by introducing a new party leader. Molterer, on the other hand, appeared “old” and “used”. He is not the glossy type; he felt most comfortable in the second row, behind Wolfgang Schüssel, the ÖVP prime minister from 2000-2006.
The Socialists scored by opening monetary floodgates, distributing money to everyone, without explaining to the taxpayer how to pay for these additional payments (to the pensioners, to families). In addition, university tuition was scrapped, leaving universities with a massive budgetary hole. Thrilled about saving 370 euros per semester, most university students thus voted Socialist.
After ÖVP’s massive losses on Sunday, the party was quick to get rid of Molterer and install a new party leader. On Monday, Josef Pröll, minister of agriculture and long considered party crown prince, was named the new party leader. Since Pröll favors a grand coalition, this decision can be interpreted as a signal to the Socialist party: more of the same, another grand coalition, a form of government so despised by many Austrians. Socialist party leader Werner Faymann has said all along that he favors another grand coalition. What he neglects to mention is his inability to form any other coalition as he has repeatedly ruled out every form of government with either FPÖ or BZÖ.
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Socialist doctrine rules out any form of cooperation, even contact, with the two parties on the right. While this decision cannot be considered democratic, it is supported by the party. Michael Häupl, the mayor of Vienna, even went so far as to rail to the gathered crowd of SPÖ supporters in the part tent: “Those right-wing populists! Those idiots! They are s**t!” He added that in 1938 Jews evoked fear and hatred, nowadays it is all foreigners (who are feared and hated). He intentionally compared FPÖ and BZÖ with the Nazis. “Starting tomorrow, we will fight the right wing populism and neo-fascism! Never again! Never again!” The crowd also chanted, “Never again!” (Die Presse)
Commentators in the foreign press were in agreement about the increase of BZÖ and FPÖ votes: A radical, rather disgusting move to the right “happened” to Austria, away from a moderate middle to hatred of foreigners and pseudo-patriotism. The newspaper Kurier analyzes the fact that not every FPÖ and BZÖ voter is a right-wing xenophobe.
One of the strongest motives to vote for one of the two parties was indeed to protest against the coalition parties, ÖVP and SPÖ, coupled with the hope that their vote will bring with it a wind of change. According to one pollster, Strache’s statements on immigration were not a determining factor to vote for FPÖ. A prominent political scientist adds that one should not consider these voters neo-Nazis or right-wing nationalists.
More men than women voted for FPÖ. Sixteen-year-olds — who were allowed to cast their vote for the first time — mainly voted for Strache. Fear (about the economic situation) was another prominent reason for voting for FPÖ and BZÖ.
The article concludes by dispelling the assumption that FPÖ takes a stance against all foreigners: this is too simple, especially in view of the fact that many non-Muslim immigrants — especially Serbs — voted for Strache.
One single mother talks about her fear of living in her apartment complex (note: these huge apartment buildings are built and financed by the city of Vienna and its residents traditionally vote socialist. Rent is usually very affordable. Until recently, these apartments could only be rented by Austrians; the Socialist government in Vienna, amid heavy criticism, decided to “open” these apartment buildings to immigrants as well. Since then, FPÖ has been able to garner strong support among residents.) She says she can no longer allow her son to play outside because she is afraid. “We live in strict separation between Austrians and foreigners. When I sit down on a bench with foreigners, they get up and leave.”
It is interesting to look at voter motivation, as it seems that young voters are aware of the most pressing problems in Austria (Muslim immigration and the EU).
Voters under 30:
EU-critics voted for FPÖ and SPÖ. The latter’s decision to call for EU referenda in the future was a very controversial one, and not only heavily criticized, but also rejected by ÖVP.
The European Union — always the guarantor of democratic rights as demonstrated in 2000, when ÖVP formed a coalition government with FPÖ — has already signaled its fear of a “Vienna virus”, as in EU skepticism. Austria is no longer considered a reliable partner. EU MEPs are threatening the possibility of imposing sanctions, as occurred in 2000, if the parties do decide on a new center-right coalition government. However, members of the EU commission deny this. One spokesman added, “We have no comment on the election results.” France, who had initiated the sanctions against Austria in 2000, also has no comments. Even French newspapers are strangely silent, only reporting on the results, without analysis. No comment either from the foreign ministry or the ministry for European affairs.
The one country that did have something to say was Israel. Igal Palmor, spokesperson of the Israeli foreign ministry: “We do not have a comment on the results of the Austrian elections. However, we do note the rise of xenophobic elements promoting hate as well as Holocaust deniers. We are very concerned.”
What concerns me most is another grand coalition. This is the worst possible scenario. This form of coalition government is extremely unpopular among Austrians as it divides Austria in two halves: red and black. Every decision, every appointment is made according to this division. If, for instance, Austrian Airlines needs a new board of directors, the political affiliations of the appointees are put in the foreground. Two directors are conservative, two directors are socialist. This is sickening and wrong. In addition, the economic wing in the ÖVP is in strong favor of a grand coalition, especially in view of Austria’s EU membership.
If there another coalition between ÖVP and SPÖ I can almost guarantee major losses for ÖVP in the next elections, no matter when they are called. However, I do not know what is better for ÖVP: Parliamentary opposition or a coalition with FPÖ and BZÖ. What I do know is that I am completely and utterly against any cooperation with SPÖ. It would be disastrous for Austria.
I would also like to add that I completely reject the insinuation that all Austrians are Nazis. It simply is not true. First, there are, like in many other countries, such as the United States, those very few who might appreciate a revival of National Socialist doctrine. But seriously, does anyone really think that this could happen again, either in the U.S. or in Europe? Is it not enough for 99.99% of Austrians to completely reject this doctrine?
What else must an Austrian do so he is not called names every day? Should we not worry more about the continued and sustained Islamization of Europe? Or the introduction of sharia?
Second, it is much easier to label someone a Nazi without even considering the fact that Nazis were National SOCIALISTS, i.e. found on the far left of the political spectrum. If anything, FPÖ and BZÖ voters are national(istic), wanting their home country to remain theirs. And what is wrong with that?
And thirdly, I find it appalling that seemingly the entire world (save the Muslim one, of course) believes Austria is a Nazi country where once you get off the plane, you have storm troopers waiting for you to haul you off to a concentration camp and swastikas dangling in the wind. And please do not tell me this is the Austrians’ fault because they voted for FPÖ and BZÖ. Educate yourself in Austrian political parties, and you will quickly see the lack of real choice if you oppose mass (Muslim) immigration and Islamization.
At the end of his terrible day, Molterer said: “It is very hard to tell the truth in Austria.”
I can’t help but agree with him.