Global Independent Analytics
Lionel Baland
Lionel Baland

Location: Belgium

Specialization: Euroscepticism, Patriotic parties of Europe

Towards A Political Earthquake in Austria

Nowadays, SPÖ and ÖVP govern together again.

While the Social-Democrats and the Christian-Socials of Austria have been sharing power between themselves since the end of WWII, the power of attraction of these two political organizations of the system is strongly collapsing henceforth. This situation is leading to a political earthquake consisting of the probable elimination of the candidates of these two parties at the outcome of the first round of the presidential elections on April 24, 2016.

Austria has more than eight million inhabitants, including 1,800,000 in Vienna. This concentration of population in the capital city finds its origins in the fact that this place was previously the political center of the Habsburg empire. From this empire – dismantled after WWI – the small Austrian Republic was born. This situation leads to a political antagonism: Red Vienna is a stronghold of the social-democrats, but the countryside is dominated by the Christian-Socials. A third political group also plays a significant role: the liberals and nationalists (for a great Germany). They are derived from the liberal revolution of 1848 in Germany that was an effect of the revolution in France at the same year. At this time, the German liberals had social and liberal demands (freedom of press, freedom of association, freedom of meeting) and they wanted a state that would gather all the German speaking people. They were against the fragmented Germany of the princes. Paradoxically, the German unification was realized by the very conservative Chancellor Otto von Bismarck: The German state (gathering the German speaking people who didn’t live in the Habsburg empire) was born between 1866 and 1871. When the Habsburg Empire was dismantled after WWI, the possibility of unifying Austria and  Germany came into being, but the Allied countries refused to allow it.

In the inter-war period, there were considerable tensions through the country. The Christian-Social Chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss created a corporatist and Catholic dictatorship to which the nickname “Austro-fascism” was allocated. He dissolved the Communist party and then the National-Socialist party whose active members were thrown in concentration camps. Following the crackdown on the Social-Democrats who launched a general strike, the workers rose up and caused a civil war that was repressed. In July 1934, Engelbert Dollfuss was seriously injured in a National-Socialist attempted putsch. He died. Kurt von Schuschnigg took over as his successor. Dropped by the Italian leader Benito Mussolini, he was forced to accept in 1938 the annexation of Austria to the National-Socialist Germany.

After WWII, Austria was re-instituted and occupied until 1955 by USSR, USA, United Kingdom and France. Two parties, the socialist SPÖ and the Christian-Social and Conservative ÖVP, shared for decades among themselves the power at all levels: from the highest positions of the staff of public services to the posts to cleaning ladies in the village schools, all posts were politically given out to members of the “red” (SPÖ) and black (ÖVP) political parties. A third political - rather marginal - force was also active: The VdU and then the FPÖ representing the national and liberal political group. In 1986, while the FPÖ, led by Norbert Steger of the liberal wing was on the verge of collapse, Jörg Haider took over the party and led it from victory to victory and then brought it to the government with the ÖVP in February 2000.

Nowadays, SPÖ and ÖVP govern together again. The main opposition party FPÖ is given in the opinion polls 32-33% as the first party of Austria. The upcoming parliamentary elections have to occur at the latest in autumn 2018. But an other national vote has to happen before then: the presidential elections of 24 April 2016 and - if no one get 50% at the first turn - on 22 May 2016. The candidates who have obtained the necessary 6,000 signatures are six people: SPÖ’s Rudolf Hundstorfer, ÖVP’s Andreas Khol, FPÖ’s Norbert Hofer, the independent candidate member of the ecologist party and sustained by it Alexander Van der Bellen, the independent candidate and former high magistrate Irmgard Griss, and the independent candidate and former business owner Richard Lugner. If the main characteristic of this ballot is a large number of candidates, the results will make it a particular election of the first kind. Indeed, opinion polls give the first position to the green Alexander Van der Bellen, the second to the nationalist Norbert Hofer, and the third to the independent candidate Irmgard Griss. The representatives of the Social-Democrats and the Christian-Socials are respectively given the fourth and fifth positions before Richard Lugner who is the last one. If this trend continues at the ballot boxes, this evolution will substantiate the more and more important rejection of the candidates of the political parties of the system; the candidate sustained by the Greens will face the nationalist in the second turn. This election will concretize the massive loss of influence of the political parties of the system even though these parties have locked the political system for decades at their advantage[1].

 


[1] Since WWII, the Austrian presidents were SPÖ or ÖVP or proposed by the SPÖ or false independents who were former SPÖ or ÖVP members. Except in 2010 when ÖVP didn’t present or sustain a candidate, the main counter candidate was always linked to these parties.

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