Social Democrats lead, but far right gains in Austria

Austria's Social Democratic Party emerged as the strongest party in early parliamentary elections on Sunday, but the real winners were two far-right parties that together won 29 per cent of the vote, dpa reported.

Social Democratic Party (SPOe) leader Werner Faymann was set to take over the chancellorship by winning 29.7 per cent, though his party lost 6 percentage points compared with the last elections in 2006.

The record low results by the Social Democrats and their junior coalition partner, the conservative People's Party (OeVP), were contrasted by dramatic gains for the far-right Freedom Party (FPOe) and of the Alliance for the Future of Austria (BZOe), led by Austria's notorious right-wing leader Joerg Haider.

Heinz-Christian Strache's Freedom Party won 18 per cent of the ballots, 7 percentage points more than in the last elections. At 11 per cent, the Alliance more than doubled its results from 2006.

Both parties won over voters by responding to frustration about the political standstill of the outgoing coalition, and to fears about inflation and negative feelings about the European Union. They also lashed out at immigrants and portrayed asylum seekers as economic refugees or criminals.

"If I become chancellor or interior minister in this country, I will evict all those who abuse the asylum system, and all criminals in this country," Strache told a cheering crowd on Friday.

Among 30-and-below voters, 25 per cent said they voted for the Freedom Party, making it the most popular choice in this age group, exit polls showed.

The conservative People's Party, the SPOe's junior partner in the so-called "grand coalition" that ended in July, came in second at 25.6 per cent, suffering massive losses of 9 percentage points.

SPOe and OeVP are not keen on another round of cooperation, but they might have few other options if they keep their promises not to govern with the far right.

"I cannot imagine a government with BZOe or FPOe", said Fayman, who also ruled out a minority government with the support of the extreme right in Parliament.

Freedom Party leader Strache said Sunday that the Social Democrats should reconsider their "fetish for exclusion" of other parties.

"The grand coalition is dead. There must be a different solution", Haider said.

The Social Democrats' options were unclear as conservative leader Molterer did not rule out an opposition role for his party on Sunday.

The Green party collected 9.8 per cent of votes, losing around 1 percentage point compared with 2006.

At 1.9 per cent, the Liberal Forum was far from the 4-per-cent threshold to reenter Parliament.

The official final result will be announced on October 6, when ballots cast abroad and by mail will also be included. These additional votes are not expected to change the result in a significant way.

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