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By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
VIENNA, AUSTRIA (BosNewsLife)— Austria’s pro-Europe, centrist coalition partners have narrowly won Sunday’s parliamentary elections, but their victory party was spoiled by the far-right Freedom Party which became the third largest political force in the Alpine nation, rocking the political establishment.
Chancellor Werner Faymann’s Social Democrats made clear they want to continue with their conservative People’s Party allies after Sunday’s parliamentary ballot, despite failing to repeat last week’s success of Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats in neighboring Germany.
But conservative leader Michael Spindelegger was keeping his options open as both parties, emerged bruised from their worst electoral showings since World War Two, together winning just nearly 51 percent of the vote.
Both men said there could be no return to business as usual for the parties, who dominated post-war politics for years, as the Euroskeptic and anti-Islam Freedom Party became the third largest political force with roughly 21 per cent.
Yet, incumbent Chancellor Faymann tried to sound cautiously optimistic.
“I am very thankful to have received the trust of voters for the next five years,” he said. But Faymann acknowledged “there is a need to build up more trust for the future” of this heavily Catholic country.
Conservative candidate Spindelegger did not completely rule out a coalition with the Freedom Party and the new Euroskeptic party of Austro-Canadian car-parts magnate Frank Stronach.
“These elections were a wake-up call and must makes us think that the parties can’t simply go on as before,” he added.
That was music to the ears of Freedom Party leader Heinz–Christian Strache. “I am deeply move about this election result and am very thankful.”
His anti-immigration, euro-skeptic stance has struck a chord with Austrian voters, frustrated at state corruption and tax bailouts to poorer European Union nations.
Critics doubt whether the Freedom Party can get a place at the coalition table after the outcry that followed its entry into government in 2000 under late politician Joerg Haider.
He made headlines by praising Nazi leader Adolf Hitler’s employment policies.
Current leader Strache said in a television debate however that he is angry his party is still viewed with suspicion by incumbent chancellor Freymann. “It is sad and not democratic that a modern party is being marginalized, despite having support from many workers and other voters,” the telegenic 44-year-old leader said.
He has been telling voters in campaign posters ‘Love thy neighbor. For me, this means our Austrians’.
Chancellor Freymann has made clear however that he seeks a more social and open Austria. “Opposition work is important but inciting people is not,” he said recently sitting around a table with the Freedom Party leader.
His coalition’s record, he added, included “having overseen the lowest unemployment rate within the European Union and a country that remains relative prosperous with fewer impoverished people than many other EU nations despite a global economic crisis.”
Though there are big changes the centrist coalition of the Social Democrats and conservatives will continue in the end, the results underscored a trend among European Union voters showing dissatisfaction with governments over unpopular austerity measures aimed at battling the financial crisis that erupted in 2008.
Analysts say the coalition so far avoided major reforms not to stall the export-driven economy, but Austrians now expect a clear direction.
That won’t be easy. Both parties, known locally as the SPÖ and conservative ÖVP, are already quarreling over tax, education and other important policy issues.
They now need to bridge the divide to convince voters that they are moving confidently ahead towards an even better future for this relatively prosperous EU member state.
Many of Austria’s over six million voters stayed home, with turnout just below 66 percent, the lowest outcome since the last election in 2008.
(BosNewsLife’s NEWS WATCH is a regular look at key general news developments from especially, but not limited to, (former) Communist countries and other autocratic states impacting the Church and/or other compassionate professionals).
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