Top congress popularity poll result as Vienna vote nears

The Viennese Social Democrats’ (SPÖ) bid to retain their absolute majority in Sunday’s provincial election has received a boost as the city has been found the most popular congress destination in the world.The International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA) announced today (Mon) Vienna topped the ranking – for which participators of conferences all over the world were polled – for a sixth year in a row.ICCA said earlier this year Vienna and French capital Paris were tied for first place for staging the most congresses in a world city in 2009. Both cities hosted 139 international summits last year, according to the body. It was the fourth year in a row that Vienna had occupied or shared first place. Barcelona in Spain came second last year with 136 hosted congresses.Congress participators are of immense importance for the Austrian tourism industry as they were responsible for around 1.7 million overnights in Austrian hotels and pensions last year. Figures have shown that they stay an average 4.7 days in the country. Congress tourism created a net product of more than one billion Euros last year, according to the Austria Marketing (ÖW).The biggest congress Vienna hosted so far this year was July’s five-day International AIDS Conference the Austrian capital hosted last month. Around 25,000 experts, journalists and politicians came to the federal capital to discuss scientific developments in the fight against HIV and AIDS.Vienna recorded 1.125 million overnights in July – more than ever registered in the month. The 4.8 million overnights that occurred between January and June of this year – a 12.9 per cent year on year improvement – meant that the city had the best first six months of the year in history.All these figures could help the ruling SP֒s attempts to hold the majority in seats in the city parliament. Around 49.1 per cent of the overall vote in the 2005 ballot were enough to stay in power without the need of approaching rivals to form a coalition.Five parties want to break the SP֒s majority in Sunday’s (10 October) city parliament and district representations election.Analysts see the party of Mayor Michael Häupl in a difficult position. Polls have shown that a vast majority of residents enjoy living in the city and appreciate the high living quality. Many of them, however, may prefer a coalition government of the SPÖ and the People’s Party (ÖVP) and the Greens to ensure more balanced political circumstances.Häupl and his team are currently trying to encourage more of the many people staying away from the booths five years ago to make their cross for the SPÖ in the upcoming ballot. Those who did not participate in the 2005 election are considered as the voters group set to decide Sunday’s vote as only 60.8 per cent of Vienna residents eligible to vote did so five years ago, down from 66.6 per cent in 2001.The Social Democrats are expected to approach the ÖVP of Christine Marek for coalition if the election result ends their majority. The Viennese Economic Chamber (WKW), which is dominated by ÖVP officials, is understood to be in favour of a coalition between SPÖ and ÖVP.Marek has warned the SPÖ against teaming up with the Greens who she branded as a “chaotic bunch” following the foundation of an Echt Grün (Real Green) list in two districts by former Greens officials.The ÖVP boss said she would like to form a government with the SPÖ to have a “control function” over the Social Democrats.Vienna Greens chief Maria Vassilakou, meanwhile, said the election would be a “unique” chance for the second SPÖ-Greens coalition in one of Austria’s nine provinces following such a cooperation in Upper Austria.Speaking about the internal party feud in the districts of Mariahilf and Josefstadt, former federal Greens leader Alexander Van der Bellen appealed to supporters not to be distracted by “this soap opera”.Vassilakou has called for a massive reduction of public transport tickets, more focus on renewable energy sources and a reform of the school system.The SPÖ – who are accused of excessive spending on various controversial construction and infrastructure projects – have been advised by famous US American political strategist Stanley Greenberg once more.The party’s poster campaign, which features a smiling Häupl surrounded by groups of people, has been compared to political marketing in dictatorial North Korea by rivals and some advertisement experts – who also highlighted some “Photoshop blunders” on the used images.Political analysts have pointed out how little federal SPÖ Chancellor Werner Faymann got involved in the current campaign. The former Vienna SPÖ government member is regarded as being less powerful in some regards within the party’s federal board than Häupl, who became mayor of Vienna in 1994.The Social Democrats look back on more than a dozen of election defeats since Faymann succeeded Alfred Gusenbauer as party leader around two years ago.A recent survey has revealed 48 per cent of Vienna residents would back Häupl if they were able to nominate the city’s mayor in a direct vote. A meagre seven per cent said they would vote Heinz-Christian Strache, head of the Freedom Party (FPÖ). Vassilakou would bag only five per cent of the vote in such a ballot, while Marek could be certain of the support of just four per cent of the overall vote.Around 1.144 million residents in the capital are eligible to vote on Sunday. The election’s result is expected to have a strong impact on the federal political landscape, mostly since it will reveal how strong the FPÖ can get nowadays. The right-wing party, which came second in the 1999 general election, bagged 10.9 per cent in last month’s Styrian election, up from 4.6 per cent. Gains between four and eight per cent are expected for the upcoming Vienna city parliament election for the FPÖ which garnered 14.8 per cent in 2005.The ÖVP came second five years ago with 18.8 per cent, while the Greens (14.6 per cent) were narrowly beaten for third place by the FPÖ.