Early poll results give Austria's 'grand coalition' second term

Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann (29 Sept 2013)
Image caption Werner Faymann is expected to remain at the head of the "grand coalition"

Austria's governing two-party "grand coalition" has gained enough votes for another five-year term, preliminary election results suggest.

The Social Democrats (SPOe) are on 27.1% and the conservative People's Party (OeVP) 23.8%, just enough for a parliamentary majority if they choose to renew their alliance.

The far-right Freedom Party (FPOe) rose to 21.4%.

Turnout was below 66%, - well down on the last election in 2008.

Austrians, with an electorate of six million, were choosing 183 deputies for the lower house of parliament. A party must cross a 4% hurdle to be represented in the chamber.

Freedom Party success

Image caption Heinz-Christian Strache's Freedom Party (FPOe) celebrated its performance

Preliminary official results give Social Democrat Chancellor Werner Faymann's alliance with the People's Party a slim combined absolute majority of 50.9%, down from 55.3% in 2008. Postal and absentee ballots have still to be counted.

Mr Faymann appears set to remain at the head of the coalition as chancellor.

The anti-immigration, Eurosceptic Freedom Party appears to have increased its 17.5% share in 2008 by nearly four percentage points.

That will give leader Heinz-Christian Strache much to cheer, though it still falls short of the shock 27% the party achieved under Joerg Haider in 1999.

The governing parties had each claimed credit for keeping unemployment low during years of economic difficulties for the European Union.

The Social Democrats also focused on pensions, pledging a tax on "millionaires" and cuts for low earners.

Meanwhile, the conservative People's Party - led by Michael Spindelegger - campaigned for measures to free businesses from red tape, rejecting the proposed wealth tax.

After the vote, Mr Faymann said he was ready for talks with the OeVP, although analysts predict days of hard bargaining to form a new coalition.

"There is much to do," Mr Faymann told Austria's ORF television.

Mr Spindelegger said he was open to talks, without ruling out a coalition with the FPOe.

"This result is a wake-up call. We can't simply go on as before," he said.

Scandals and inertia

Both parties have dominated Austrian politics since World War II, and look likely to continue to govern until at least 2018.

However, a series of scandals and perceived inertia have hit their popularity among the voters.

The Freedom Party appears to have benefited from this slump. The party has accused the coalition of bloating the public sector, corruption and permitting too much immigration.

The Eurosceptic Team Stronach of Austro-Canadian billionaire Frank Stronach appears to have gained a foothold in parliament, winning 5.8%. The liberal New Austria party - Neos - could also be a newcomer to parliament with 4.8% according to preliminary results.

The Greens are on 11.5%, a rise of one percentage point. In addition to their traditional environmental themes, they have sought to capitalise on a funding scandal involving the coalition.

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