Austrians vote in early parliamentary elections

Other News Materials 28 September 2008 11:10 (UTC +04:00)

Austrians started casting their ballots for parliament on Sunday, with the social democratic SPOe and the conservative OeVP vying for the top spot to win the chancellorship, reported dpa.

As many Austrians are disappointed in these two parties that had formed a government coalition since early 2007, polls showed that the conservatives were set gain most in the early elections.

When the People's Party (OeVP) quit as junior coalition partner of the Social Democratic Party (SPOe)in July and called for elections, OeVP leader and Vice Chancellor Wilhelm Molterer was polled to beat the new SPOe top candidate, Transport Minister Werner Faymann.

While Molterer's campaign focused on security and immigration issues, Faymann banked on people's worries about inflation and now lies slightly ahead in some polls, although the difference remains very narrow.

The SPOe stood at 27 to 29 per cent in the latest forecasts, while the OeVP was seen as collecting 26 to 28 per cent of the votes. Compared with the last elections in 2006, both parties stand to lose around seven per cent each.

Votes are expected to shift to the far-right Freedom Party (FPOe) and the Alliance for the Future of Austria (BZOe), which are seen as getting 19 and eight per cent of the ballots, respectively.

Besides proposing measures against inflation, which stood at 3.7 per cent in August, Austria's two rightist parties focused on the political standstill and constant bickering in the coalition between social democratic Chancellor Alfred Gusenbauer and Molterer.

Gusenbauer resigned as party chief this summer amid low approval ratings and is not running for parliament on Sunday.

Heinz-Christian Strache's Freedom Party and Joerg Haider's Alliance also campaigned against immigrants and asylum seekers, often portraying them as criminals.

Although Austria's 6.3 million eligible voters will learn the early election result on Sunday evening, it might take weeks or months of coalition negotiations among parties to determine who is included in the cabinet.

The president traditionally asks the head of the strongest party to become chancellor and form a cabinet, but if coalition talks are fruitless, the head of the second strongest party is asked.

Both social democrats and conservatives are not keen on another round of cooperation, but they might have few other options, as they have vowed not to govern with the far right.

The Greens were polling ten to 12 per cent of the vote, not enough to form a majority in parliament with either SPOe or OeVP.

The Liberal Forum is fighting to re-enter parliament for the first time since 1999. dpa al tl