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Austrian Ruling Parties Eke Out Win With Record-Low Support

Sept. 29 (Bloomberg) -- Austrians abandoned their two main parties in record numbers at today’s national elections and elected two protest movements to parliament for the first time.

The center-left Social Democrats won 26.6 percent of the vote, their worst result since World War II, according to projections calculated by ARGE Wahl and published by the Austrian Press Agency. The Alpine nation’s conservative People’s Party finished second, with 24.1 percent of the vote, also its worst finish in the same period.

“If the two get together again, they need to change radically or else they will be history in 2018,” said Peter Hajek, a Vienna-based polling and public-opinion analyst. “They need to rethink their positions.”

The result gives Social Democratic Chancellor Werner Faymann the first chance at forming a new government in the coming weeks. Since 2008, the nation of 8.4 million has been ruled by the so-called “grand coalition” of socialists and conservatives, a political pairing that has shared power in 42 of the last 68 years. Smaller parties may also vie to enter government to form a three-way coalition.

“We can’t take the first place for granted,” Faymann told reporters, according to APA. The Social Democrats will begin negotiations with the People’s Party, he said.

‘End Ostracism’

The Freedom Party, which favors fewer immigrants in Austria and a euro-area exit, won 20.7 percent, the most votes since their 1999 showing, which led to their inclusion in a government with the People’s Party at the time.

“The Social Democrats and the People’s Party should quit their undemocratic ostracism and enter into serious negotiations,” Freedom Party leader Heinz-Christian Strache told reporters in Vienna, adding that his party was ready to “break the gridlock” of his political competitors.

Support for the Greens rose to a record 12.3 percent after the party ran on its anti-corruption credentials following a spate of scandals. Protests parties formed by Austrian-Canadian billionaire Frank Stronach and former Strabag SE boss Hans-Peter Haselsteiner are poised to enter parliament with 5.7 percent and 5.1 percent, respectively.

Faymann and his conservative ally Michael Spindelegger campaigned mostly against each other in the past months. The Social Democrat’s options are more limited because he has ruled out a pact with the Freedom Party. Spindelegger could form a majority in a possible three-way coalition with the euro-skeptic bloc and one of the new protest parties entering parliament.

“The People’s Party has to keep its options open to drive up the price for another grand coalition,” Hajek said. Another grand coalition will have to compromise and move quickly on reforms, he said.

To contact the reporters on this story: Jonathan Tirone in Vienna at jtirone@bloomberg.net; Alexander Weber in Vienna at aweber45@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: James Hertling at jhertling@bloomberg.net; Mariajose Vera at mvera1@bloomberg.net

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