Far-right parties hoping for election gains in Austria

Austria’s two far-right parties could well make significant gains in national elections this weekend, less than a decade after the rise of the right led to EU diplomatic sanctions.

The governing coalition between the conservative People’s Party and the centre-left Social Democrats crumbled in July after months of bickering.

What followed was a summer-long election campaign involving 10 parties on a national level. Four less-known groups are on the ballot in several districts.

On the eve of Sunday’s election, the two power-sharing blocs were running neck and neck for the top spot but neither look likely to secure an absolute majority.

Instead, experts said disgruntled voters may reach out – largely in protest - to the rightist Freedom Party and the Alliance for the Future of Austria: groups known for their populist, anti-immigration rhetoric.

“Definitely the parties in government – the Social Democrats and the Christian conservatives – will lose (votes),” said Peter Filzmaier, a respected Austrian political commentator, adding that both could see their worst results since 1945.

“The so-called Freedom Party, as well as the Alliance for the Future of Austria, will be a big winner,” Mr Filzmaier predicted.

Some 6.3 million people are eligible to vote, including about 200,000 16- and 17-year-olds under a new law that dropped the minimum voting age. In total, 183 seats in parliament are to be filled.

Recent polls predict the Freedom Party will come in third behind the two main parties with about 18% of the vote. They show that the Alliance for the Future of Austria, led by Jorg Haider, could double its 4% result in 2006 elections.

But Mr Filzmaier says any gains those parties may make will be more an expression of discontent with the current coalition than a reflection of a fundamental shift to the far right.

“We don’t have more right-oriented voters than in 2006 when they gained 15 % together,” he said. “It’s because of a negative mood of frustration, of political mistrust of the grand coalition.”

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