Right-wing triumph in Vienna shocks federal coalition partners

The Social Democrats (SPÖ) lost their absolute majority in the Vienna city parliament for the second time since World War Two while the right-wing Freedom Party (FPÖ) celebrates massive gains.The SPÖ garnered 44.2 per cent yesterday (Sun), down from the 49.1 per cent it won five years ago.The People’s Party (ÖVP) 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 SPÖ on federal level – ever achieved in Vienna.The Greens stayed in fourth with 12.2 per cent (2005: 14.6 per cent), while the FPÖ 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 (BZÖ), which was founded by late FPÖ leader Jörg 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 SPÖ now has just 49 of the overall 100 seats. It had held 55 seats since its 2005 triumph. The FPÖ garnered an extra 15 seats to have an overall 28 members in the city parliament, while the ÖVP’s 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.SPÖ Mayor Michael Häupl made clear last night he will not step down despite his party’s dramatic losses. Häupl – who became mayor in 1994 – said the result was “regrettable”, adding that he will meet the heads of ÖVP, FPÖ and the Green Party for talks this week.The SPÖ is tipped to ask the ÖVP to form a coalition, while the Greens also hope for their chance to team up with the Social Democrats. Häupl once more stressed a cooperation with the FPÖ was out of question for him. “I can’t do this,” he said, referring to the FP֒s xenophobic views he has criticised throughout the campaign.FPÖ boss Heinz-Christian Strache called on Häupl to end his “arrogant politics of isolation” of the FPÖ. “The SPÖ must not ignore a third of the people of Vienna,” Strache said, referring to his party’s strong performance in yesterday’s 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 SPÖ was subsequently forced to open coalition talks for the first time in history. It cooperated with the ÖVP before it reclaimed the majority in seats in the city parliament in the 2001 ballot.Circumstances for the SPÖ were less difficult in 2001 and in 2005 for various reasons. The party gladly took the opportunity to attack the federal FPÖ-ÖVP coalition in 2001 before campaigning against the ÖVP’s cooperation with the BZÖ 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 Häupl but also on federal party leader Werner Faymann. Provincial party leaders and many other influential SPÖ 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 ÖVP in various regards too often, according to many SPÖ members.Internal party criticism of the SPÖ Vienna’s 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 city’s 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, Häupl only said: “We were unable to mobilise our supporters. We reached people’s minds, but not their hearts.”Analysts have warned that Häupl’s 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 Häupl were they able to elect the mayor in a direct vote. Only seven per cent would support Strache, while ÖVP 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.Häupl, who controversially labelled Strache a “stupid person” on the campaign trail, is expected to step down during the coming five years to help the SPÖ to gain strength ahead of the next city elections. City councillors Michael Ludwig and Renate Brauner may replace Häupl as head of the party’s 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 FPÖ 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 SPÖ of doing more for immigrants unwilling to integrate than for “hard-working Austrians”. The FPÖ also claimed it “protects free women, while the SPÖ protects (Muslim) men enforcing their women to wear head-scarves”.ÖVP 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 ÖVP Vienna agrees with the Social Democrats on a coalition in the city.The ÖVP 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 ÖVP 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.Yesterday’s 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 FPÖ has regained the potential to win the support of up to one in three people following years of turmoil and poor performances after the BZÖ was set up in 2005.Now all eyes are on the federal SPÖ-ÖVP 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 Year’s Day.