Refugee Crisis Deals Blow to Vienna Socialists as Populists Gain

  • Social Democrats Projected With Weakest Result 70 Years
  • Freedom Party Surges to Record After Anti-Immigration Campaign

Europe’s refugee crisis appeared to deal a blow to Vienna’s ruling Social Democrats, whose support fell to a record-low in local elections as they came in head to head against an Austrian right-populist party seeking to restrict immigration.

The center-left party of Mayor Michael Haeupl won 34.5 to 37.5 percent of the vote, the worst result during the Social Democrats’ uninterrupted postwar-reign in Vienna, according to a projection based on an election-day survey published by ORF public television. The Freedom Party, which campaigned on keeping undocumented migrants out of the capital, surged to 33 to 36 percent, their best result ever.

Austrian Freedom Party leader Heinz-Christian Strache speaks ahead of the local elections Oct. 8.
Austrian Freedom Party leader Heinz-Christian Strache speaks ahead of the local elections Oct. 8.
Photographer: Patrick Domingo/AFP/Getty Images

“We know that we have not done everything perfectly and that much also went wrong,” Haeupl said Saturday in Vienna. “But if there’s one thing I’ve been for my entire political life: when someone flees from the barrel of a gun and cutthroats and asks for help, then we help.”

With hundreds of thousands of refugees passing through Austria’s capital and asylum applications on course to triple this year, immigration policy is the top issue driving Viennese to the polls. Images of overcrowded train stations and reception centers have dominated Austrian media for weeks. The vote shows how politicians across Europe, from Germany’s Angela Merkel to the U.K.’s David Cameron, are struggling to balance obligations to refugees from war-torn Syria against anxiety over unfettered migration.

Austria’s highest unemployment rate, rising rents and stagnant wages have also increased frustration among voters going into Sunday’s vote. If polls turn out to be correct, it will be the fourth provincial election since May where the Freedom Party makes significant gains. Last month in Upper Austria, the party doubled support to 30 percent.

Polls closed at 5:00 p.m. local time and more accurate projections are scheduled to be released about 6:00 p.m.

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