Austrians vote in snap parliamentary election

Austrians have started casting their ballots in a snap parliamentary election, in which the conservative People’s Party looks set to take the lead, but not enough to form a majority government.

Austrians began voting on Sunday in a snap general election, in which the conservative People’s Party (OVP) looks set to take the lead, but not enough to form a majority government. With 6.4 million people eligible to vote, polling stations across the country opened at seven am (0500 GMT). They will close by five pm (1500 GMT) when first projections are expected.   

OVP, led by ex-Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, is predicted to win around 33%, up slightly from the last elections two years ago.

The election follows the collapse in May of Kurz’s coalition with the far-right Freedom Party (FPO) after a video sting scandal that forced FPO Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache to step down. The footage filmed secretly on the Spanish resort island of Ibiza showed Strache appearing to offer public contracts in exchange for campaign help from a fake Russian backer.

Kurz, 33, has emerged largely unscathed from the scandal, even gaining voters from the FPO as its support has slipped to roughly a fifth of the electorate from just over a quarter in the last vote in 2017. On the left, there has been some shift in support from the Social Democrats (SPO) to the resurgent Greens.

Climate top concern

Kurz has “nothing to win, but a lot to lose,” Austrian daily Die Presse warned in an editorial on Saturday. “Even with a nice plus on Sunday, it is more difficult for him than in 2017,” it said, adding there was no partner that quite suited any more.

While immigration was the top voter concern during the previous election in 2017, surveys suggest this time it’s the environment. Concerns over climate have helped the Greens surge from less than 4% in the last election, when they crashed out of parliament, to around 13% now.

Tens of thousands of people marched on Friday in Vienna and other Austrian cities to demand the government fight climate change.

Given the reason the election was called, corruption in public life and party financing have also been prominent themes in the campaign, as well as more bread-and-butter issues like social care. As the campaign wound up last week, the FPO sought to focus voters’ attention on its core issue of migration, railing against immigrants in general and Muslims in particular, rather than addressing recent scandals that have eroded its support.

Since World War II, either OVP or SPO have always governed Austria, and for 44 years in total the two ruled together, but it was Kurz who ended their last partnership, leading to the 2017 polls.

Many expect that today’s election will be followed by a long period of coalition talks, meaning the current provisional government of civil servants led by former judge Brigitte Bierlein could remain in place until Christmas or later.