Heads will roll as SPÖ and ÖVP lick their wounds

Several decision-makers of the Social Democratic Party (SPÖ) and the People’s Party (ÖVP) are facing the chop after the federal coalition partners were badly beaten in last Sunday’s Vienna election.The SPÖ lost its absolute majority in the 100-member city parliament, dropping from 49.1 per cent to 44.6 per cent. The party is now forced to hold coalition talks for the second time since 1996.The ÖVP garnered 13.8 per cent on Sunday, down by 4.9 per cent compared to its performance five years ago. Sunday’s result was the worst in history for the conservative party’s Vienna branch.The Parties’ analysts are currently debating why the SPÖ and ÖVP failed to prevent the Freedom Party (FPÖ) from making massive gains and reaching second place. The right-wing party, which won only 14.8 per cent in 2005, bagged 26.2 per cent on Sunday. This share – Vienna FPÖ’s second best performance after its 27.9 per cent in the 1996 city ballot – gives the party 27 seats in the city parliament. Since 2005 the FPÖ had only held 13 seats.The SPÖ will now have only 49 instead of 55 seats, while the ÖVP’s share is set to shrink from 18 to 13. The Greens will be represented by 11 councillors after having claimed an overall 14 five years ago.ÖVP Vienna general secretary Norbert Walter announced today (Weds) he decided to resign after nine years in charge. Walter – who organised the party’s election campaign – had already hinted at an intention to step down ahead of the ballot, but was expected to stay if the ÖVP gains support.Walter explained he had agreed with ÖVP Vienna boss Christine Marek to remain in power until Christmas to ensure a smooth transfer of responsibilities. Asked whether fellow party members persuaded him to stay, he only said: “No.”Walter came under fire by some party officials for deciding to give the Vienna ÖVP’s campaign a focus on law and order. Analysts claimed many former backers were confused by the strict policies presented since Marek was previously regarded as one of the ÖVP’s leading liberal forces.Many Vienna residents may have decided to stay away from the polls or back other parties when Marek spoke out in favour of a ban of burqas and mandatory extra German courses for immigrants who struggle in regular lectures – despite the existence of such initiatives already.Marek stressed today she had no plans to resign as head of the ÖVP’s Viennese branch following the party’s poor performance on Sunday. “I took over half a year ago, with the intention of changing Vienna for the better during the coming five years,” she said, referring to a possible SPÖ-ÖVP coalition in the city. The parties have been cooperating on federal level since 2007.The Vienna ÖVP leader also announced she has considered resigning as federal family issues state secretary in order to fully focus on her party’s representation in Vienna.Marek said Christoph Hörhan will succeed Walter as the branch’s general secretary. “He is a very engaged personality who knows the battlefields of politics,” she said about the former head of communications in the federal health ministry.ÖVP councillor Wolfgang Aigner immediately voiced concerns about the decision. He told newspaper Die Presse: “I don’t know who Mr Hörhan is. How can people we don’t know be eligible to act as general secretary?”This attack comes one day after Marek’s predecessor Johannes Hahn expressed mild criticism of her claim that six months was perhaps too short a time to get the party ready for the city parliament and district representation election.Hahn headed the ÖVP Vienna branch between 2005 and February 2010 when he was appointed European Commissioner for Regional Policy. He said: “I don’t know whether half a year is too short a time (…). Some claim half a year is just about right, others say one year is too long.”The former science minister helped the ÖVP to a more liberal reputation by speaking out in support of same sex marriage. The party managed to improve by 2.5 per cent under his leadership in the 2005 city ballot.All parties and their supporters are now eagerly awaiting the final result of last Sunday’s election. Around 162,000 postal ballots were handed out ahead of the vote, and it is still unclear how many applicants will actually make use of them to participate. The final result will be announced next Monday (18 October).The current federal law controversially says people taking part via postal votes have an extra eight days time to do so. This means they are able to await the preliminary result which is usually announced on the evening of the election – and then possibly influence the distribution of seats.Most provincial governors and federal party chiefs spoke out in favour of a reform of the postal ballot law. ÖVP whip Karlheinz Kopf suggested reducing the entry deadline to one and a half days. Politicians previously justified the eight-day ruling by arguing that everybody must have the right to follow all developments of the campaign before making a decision who to support.The Vienna ÖVP is in hot water after reminding people in a newspaper ad on Monday: “The Vienna election is over, but you can post your postal ballot today.”Rivals claimed the advertisement – part of the party’s “SMS von Marek” (Text message from Marek) campaign series – was an attempt to encourage Vienna residents who decided to participate in the vote via postal ballots to breach the law. Election regulations say people opting for postal votes must make their cross and seal the envelopes before polling stations close on Sunday afternoons. Marek already said the decision to run the disputed ad was “a mistake”.Meanwhile, Vienna newspapers claim that SPÖ traffic and urban planning councillor Rudolf Schicker may retire as a consequence of the dramatic losses his party suffered on Sunday.Schicker presented a string of infrastructure initiatives during the past few months like a new “cycling highway” alongside the Wien river. Critics accused the SPÖ these measures were just part of the party’s desperate bid to retain its majority. They also stressed it was hardly surprising that six new stations on the U2 underground were opened just a week ahead of the crucial ballot.The party’s financial issues councillor Renate Brauner is reportedly also concerned she might be forced to resign following the SP֒s poor performance in the election.Brauner – a close friend, and former lover, of SPÖ Mayor Michael Häupl – was regarded as the logical successor of Häupl as mayor for many years. The former student union activist came under massive pressure last year when it emerged she was ready to subsidise a planned Michael Jackson tribute concert with 600,000 Euros of taxpayers’ money.The city government regarded the event as a “unique opportunity” for Vienna which could further boost its image as one of the most beautiful holiday locations in the world.Georg Kindel, head manager of now defunct World Awards agency, called off the gig only hours after Brauner withdrew her decision to financially back it. Kindel had teamed up with Jermaine Jackson, a brother of the late “King of Pop”, to stage the event.The concert was set to be held in front of Schönbrunn Palace on 26 September 2009. Doubts had grown over whether it would take place after organisers failed to reveal big names for the line-up. Mary J. Blige was presented as a headliner, but just one day later the American singer denied she would be performing.Kindel and Jackson subsequently blamed Austrian newspapers and radio stations for their failure to hold the event. They claimed the media’s “negative coverage” tempted artists to pull out from performing at the gig.Brauner was also made partly responsible for the dramatic failure to stay within the budget and delays in building a new terminal at Vienna International Airport (VIA). The city of Vienna holds a 20 per cent interest in airport-managing company Flughafen Wien AG.Several board members at the firm – which is in charge of the Skylink project – are close to the SPÖ.Construction of Skylink started in 2005. The terminal was set to open three years later, and work was stopped for months last year after magazine profil revealed costs would surpass 800 million Euros. Flughafen Wien AG had said in 2005 the expense would be around half that amount. Building activities were recently restarted, and the aerodrome’s supervisory board said the terminal would open in mid-2012.Korneuburg prosecutors raided several offices and flats of Skylink construction managers, and a recent investigation by the Audit Office (RH) found out that planning errors had existed from the start. RH experts accused the airport’s board of having failed to appropriately react to apparent mismanagement.Flughafen Wien AG board member Christian Domany was sacked – and generously compensated – in March 2009, seven months before his contract expired.Häupl stressed there would be “consequences” if the investigation exposed errors and bad decision-making. The mayor also vehemently pointed out he would not act on the basis of prejudgements but wanted to await the final RH report.Häupl has made no secret about his preference for a coalition with the ÖVP over a cooperation with the Greens. The mayor, who ruled out working together with the FPÖ, reportedly considers the ÖVP as a more reliable partner. However the SP֒s youth and student organisations staged street demonstrations in a bid to convince the party board to opt for a coalition with the Greens earlier this week.Viennese Economic Chamber (WKW) president Christine Jank may take over Brauner’s financial agendas in a possible SPÖ-ÖVP coalition. The Social Democrats’ cooperation partner will be in charge of one of the eight administration departments.Greens Vienna chief Maria Vassilakou said she could imagine handling integration issues if her party comes to an agreement with the SPÖ.The future coalition government in Vienna is expected to put more focus on integration topics following the dramatic gains of the FPÖ which accused the SPÖ of turning a blind eye to the failed integration of many immigrants in the city.