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11. 10. 10. - 12:00

Right-wing triumph in Vienna shocks federal coalition partners

The Social Democrats (SP) lost their absolute majority in the Vienna city parliament for the second time since World War Two while the right-wing Freedom Party (FP) celebrates massive gains.

The SP garnered 44.2 per cent yesterday (Sun), down from the 49.1 per cent it won five years ago.

The Peoples Party (VP) failed to remain the second-strongest force in the 100-member city parliament. It won the support of just 13.2 per cent, down by 5.5 per cent. This is the worst result the party - which forms a coalition with the SP on federal level - ever achieved in Vienna.

The Greens stayed in fourth with 12.2 per cent (2005: 14.6 per cent), while the FP reached second place with 27 per cent, up by 12.2 per cent compared to the 2005 ballot.

The Alliance for the Future of Austria (BZ), which was founded by late FP leader Jrg Haider in 2005, clearly failed to achieve the five per cent required to enter parliament, claiming just 1.4 per cent yesterday (2005: 1.2 per cent).

The result means that the SP now has just 49 of the overall 100 seats. It had held 55 seats since its 2005 triumph. The FP garnered an extra 15 seats to have an overall 28 members in the city parliament, while the VPs share is set to shrink from 18 to 13. The Vienna Greens lose four seats. The party, headed by Maria Vassilakou, now has 10 seats.

SP Mayor Michael Hupl made clear last night he will not step down despite his party's dramatic losses. Hupl who became mayor in 1994 said the result was "regrettable", adding that he will meet the heads of VP, FP and the Green Party for talks this week.

The SP is tipped to ask the VP to form a coalition, while the Greens also hope for their chance to team up with the Social Democrats. Hupl once more stressed a cooperation with the FP was out of question for him. "I cant do this," he said, referring to the FP֒s xenophobic views he has criticised throughout the campaign.

FP boss Heinz-Christian Strache called on Hupl to end his "arrogant politics of isolation" of the FP. "The SP must not ignore a third of the people of Vienna," Strache said, referring to his partys strong performance in yesterdays vote.

Twenty-seven per cent is the second-best result the right-wing party ever achieved in Vienna. It did best in 1996 when it bagged 27.9 per cent following a campaign in which Haider was strongly involved. The Vienna SP was subsequently forced to open coalition talks for the first time in history. It cooperated with the VP before it reclaimed the majority in seats in the city parliament in the 2001 ballot.

Circumstances for the SP were less difficult in 2001 and in 2005 for various reasons. The party gladly took the opportunity to attack the federal FP-VP coalition in 2001 before campaigning against the VPs cooperation with the BZ four years later. Having been forced into opposition for the first time since the end of the war, the Social Democrats celebrated a string of remarkable victories in various provincial elections since 2000. It failed however to improve its share in any of the more than a dozen ballots during the past two and a half years.

The Vienna SP֒s poor performance will not increase the pressure only on Hupl but also on federal party leader Werner Faymann. Provincial party leaders and many other influential SP officials have accused the chancellor of failing to sharpen the SP֒s profile on crucial topics like immigration and the economic crisis. Faymann has been accepting the demands of coalition partner VP in various regards too often, according to many SP members.

Internal party criticism of the SP Viennas campaign strategy has emerged immediately after the first tracking poll results were announced at 5pm. Party members and analysts have said it was a mistake to let Strache speak about difficulties created by immigrants allegedly unwilling to integrate.

The Social Democrats focused on pointing out the citys high quality of living standards and stressed it will continue to try ensuring Vienna stays a safe city for everyone 24 hours a day.

Asked why his party apparently failed to convince as many people as it has in previous elections, Hupl only said: "We were unable to mobilise our supporters. We reached peoples minds, but not their hearts."

Analysts have warned that Hupls party's arrogant political attitude could backfire in the elections. The mayor has always relied upon his incredibly high personal popularity while often reacting inappropriately towards criticism. Research has shown 48 per cent of the Viennese would back Hupl were they able to elect the mayor in a direct vote. Only seven per cent would support Strache, while VP Vienna chief Christine Marek would have the backing of four in 100 residents of the capital. Vassilakou would garner only five per cent in such a ballot.

Hupl, who controversially labelled Strache a "stupid person" on the campaign trail, is expected to step down during the coming five years to help the SP to gain strength ahead of the next city elections. City councillors Michael Ludwig and Renate Brauner may replace Hupl as head of the partys Vienna branch in two years time. Councillors Sonja Wehsely and Christian Oxonitsch also have chances to sit in the driving seat and lead the party into the 2015 vote.

Strache said last night he was willing to take responsibility in Vienna. The right-winger, who took over as federal party leader in 2005, remained tight-lipped on whether he will leave the federal parliament, said he was still "unable to believe" that his party garnered 27 per cent. Asked whether the FP will be able to reach ever higher shares in future ballots, he said: "This is not yet the end."

The FP֒s strong performance in the Vienna election comes just weeks after its Styrian branch improved by 6.3 per cent to 10.9 per cent in the provincial election.

The right-wing party also improved in the provincial election of Burgenland in May where it won nine per cent, up from the 5.8 per cent it claimed in 2005.

Despite recently presented plans to focus on a more modest course, the FP֒s Vienna branch opted for a far-right campaign in Vienna. It accused the SP of doing more for immigrants unwilling to integrate than for "hard-working Austrians". The FP also claimed it "protects free women, while the SP protects (Muslim) men enforcing their women to wear head-scarves".

VP Vienna chief Christine Marek said: "I cannot be satisfied with our performance. We hoped to stay in second and improve."

Referring to the bid to break the SP֒s majority, she said: "We always said there are two goals for us."

Asked whether the losses will keep her from bringing the "fresh breeze" into the city parliament as she promised during the campaign, she explained: "No, since this fresh breeze will occur as soon as we are in power. We want to take responsibility in a coalition."

Marek added she will resign as federal family issues secretary in the economy ministry if the VP Vienna agrees with the Social Democrats on a coalition in the city.

The VP caused controversy by asking for the support of Vienna residents participating in the election via postal votes in newspaper ads today. An ad of the "Text message from Marek" campaign series said: "The Vienna election is over, but you can post your postal ballot today."

Political rivals have accused the VP of trying to appeal to people to breach the laws since it is not allowed to fill in postal votes after polling stations closed at 5pm yesterday. The approximately 100,000 people who applied for a postal vote form could influence the preliminary result of the election.

The current postal voting law is expected to undergo a reform shortly as the balloting sheets must arrive within eight days after the official end of balloting giving people the chance to await the preliminary result announcements on Sunday evening and only then make their choice.

Postal votes will, however, have just little impact on the turnout which will be lower than five years ago when only six in 10 people eligible to vote took part.

Yesterdays vote will have dramatic effects on federal politics as the next major election will only occur in three years time when a general ballot is due. It has shown that the FP has regained the potential to win the support of up to one in three people following years of turmoil and poor performances after the BZ was set up in 2005.

Now all eyes are on the federal SP-VP coalition which controversially held back its 2011 budget plans to avoid strong losses in the provincial elections of Styria and Vienna. The government intends to reveal its plans of possible tax increases and cuts only in December, despite the constitution stating that every government must announce its annual budget plans 10 weeks ahead of New Years Day.

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