Is Austria Moving (Briefly) to the Right?
Analysis by Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff.
October 17, 2017
So elections to the National Assembly are — it is tempting to say, finally — finished, and for the assembled worldwide press the name of the future Chancellor is Sebastian Kurz, wunderkind, the Danube Messiah (©Focus), savior of an Austria which had been Islamized and run into the ground by the Grand Coalition. But wait — even Austrian internal politics does not move that fast.
Sebastian Kurz, chief of the New (old) Folk Party (ÖVP), achieved a notable victory on Sunday, ahead of the
Socialists Social Democrats (SPÖ) and the invigorated Freedom Party (FPÖ). After a weak campaign, internal discussions and a fatal split (resulting in the Pilz List), the Greens exited the National Assembly. The NEOS managed to stay. All other parties were too small to jump the 4% barrier.
The ÖVP waged a nearly flawless — albeit rather bland and insubstantial — campaign. What is remembered is just Kurz hammering on having personally closed the West Balkan route and his promise of a new style in a new government. Criticism of Kurz’s shared responsibility in the chaos proceeding from a unanimity of opinion in the cabinet — especially in the matters of the immigration and asylum crisis, and expanded national debt — bounced off him. Unfortunately, the FPÖ failed to reproach him with the collapse of the Islam Law and the associated, continuing Islamization of Austria. Taking effect in 2015,the Austrian Islam Law became a disaster, as confirmed by Chancellor Kern and Minister of Justice Brandstätter. Kurz, as well as Kern and Brandstätter had been informed of the law’s defects before it went into effect.
The SPÖ campaign was shaped by proverbial busts, bad luck and bloopers. The SPÖ’s good result in Vienna can be traced to Mayor Michael Häupl’s propagation of the blue-black bogeyman image, to the great number of immigrants naturalized in recent years, and to the Greens’ inability to recognize the signs of the times. The Vienna result saved the SPÖ from an even greater debacle.
The FPÖ conducted what was a comparatively calm campaign for it, tailored entirely to the personality of H.C. Strache, who was markedly laid-back and statesmanlike. This suited him well, since formation of a government without the FPÖ, i.e., Strache, will not be possible. The FPÖ’s social media campaign with humorous videos can be designated especially successful. Even though Kurz and his ÖVP appropriated many of the FPÖ’s topics, most of the voters were apparently able to distinguish the two parties.
Something to think about is that Austria has probably moved right — much to the displeasure of Juncker and friends — but not nearly as far to the right as believed. In the past two decades, the ÖVP has moved massively to the left; the SPÖ — pressured by the immigration crisis has moved to the right; and now there is a relatively clear majority to the right of center. So this categorization, according to the experts, no longer applies.
So what will happen now in Austria? Will Sebastian Kurz “shortly” become the new head of government — the youngest in the world? It looks like that, but the SPÖ under outgoing Chancellor Kern — focused on preserving its power — could upset those calculations by offering the FPÖ all of the ministries now headed by the ÖVP. Strache will (have to) carefully consider this offer. Tactically, the ÖVP is holding much worse cards. A renewed coalition with the SPÖ seems impossible in light of Kurz’s declaration of a new style in the government. You don’t get together with the party you have accused of a bad style, without expecting an immediate loss of credibility and a 15% fall in the polls. And Strache will not make choosing him as junior partner cheap for the ÖVP.
A problem for the SPÖ could be the still-valid decision from their party convention never to enter into a coalition with the FPÖ. To be sure this decision was softened by a so-called catalogue of values. Many in the SPÖ, especially the rebellious left wing, will not accept a red-blue coalition without protest. A split in the party in the face of this situation does not seem impossible.
Now we just have to wait for the official result, which is expected Thursday. After that, the federal president will designate the one with the most votes — that is, Sebastian Kurz — to initiate coalition talks [which has occurred since this report was written]. Since the SPÖ has declared itself ready for talks, the ÖVP will talk with both Reds and Blues and the decide with whom they want to negotiate. At any rate, parallel negotiations are quite possible, that is, Kurz with his new ÖVP could find himself in the opposition.
What is the saying — Anything is possible. Exciting times are coming for Austrians. But Angela Merkel will have to keep an eye on Austria too, because there will be no Werner Faymann (the former Chancellor), who at first supported her “We can do it.”
|1.||Kurz is not just the name of the 31-year-old political prodigy, but also the word for “brief(ly),” “short(ly),” etc., so there are at least a couple of punning uses here that I am unable to do justice to. Just imagine Sebastian Kurz is Martin Short, and I am taking full advantage of that adjective/adverb.
Photo (not shown): Sebastian Cruz, Austrian Minister for Europe, Integration and Foreign Affairs