Austria’s Fringe Parties Set to Gain in Elections

Austria’s two-party coalition led by Chancellor Werner Faymann may be poised to win its narrowest victory since World War II in elections today to the 24th Nationalrat, or parliament.

While polls suggest that Faymann and Vice Chancellor Michael Spindelegger are set to lead their parties to first and second place respectively, they also show both recording their worst results of the postwar period. That may force them to seek fresh alliances amid challenges by the anti-immigrant Freedom Party and new groups backed by billionaire Frank Stronach and former Strabag SE (STR) boss Hans-Peter Haselsteiner.

Austrians enjoy Europe’s lowest unemployment and an economy that’s growing faster than the European average. Even so, political frustration has been fed by the costs of euro-area rescue measures, a string of high-profile corruption cases and lingering concerns that the nation’s wealth may be slipping. The polls close at 5 p.m. local time with projected results due shortly thereafter.

“The grand coalition isn’t a merger of love, or even of convenience -- it’s a merger of necessity,” said Austrian political scientist Anton Pelinka of the Central European University in Budapest. “The opposition parties just have to wait until the two main parties drown themselves.”

Support for Faymann’s Social Democrats is 27 percent to 23 percent for the People’s Party led by Spindelegger, a poll of 500 voters by Karmasin Motivforschung and published by Profil magazine on Sept. 23 showed. The anti-immigrant Freedom Party had 21 percent, while backing for the Greens, an environmental party that has also campaigned as an anti-corruption group, was 14 percent. No margin of error was given.

Protest Votes

In addition to the established parties, Stronach, an Austrian-Canadian, and Haselsteiner have thrown themselves behind new groups aiming for protest votes. Polls put support for Team Stronach at 7 percent, while the libertarian Neos group Haselsteiner backs may fail to pass the 4 percent threshold required to enter parliament.

So-called grand coalitions of socialists and conservatives have ruled Austria in 42 of the 68 years since the end of World War II. All other combinations would require three groups to form a pact to govern, potentially complicating the procedure.

After the election, it’s up to President Heinz Fischer to give a mandate to form a government to one of the parties. While there is no formal rule, he usually starts by asking the biggest group in parliament to seek support for a government.

To contact the reporters on this story: Boris Groendahl in Vienna at bgroendahl@bloomberg.net; Jonathan Tirone in Vienna at jtirone@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Frank Connelly at fconnelly@bloomberg.net; James Hertling at jhertling@bloomberg.net

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