Wed Nov 1st, 2006 at 05:03:45 AM EST
This is just a brief update about the political situation in your favourite alpine EU state (mine anyway), where new elections seem increasingly likely:
As some of you may recall, the recent elections on 1. October 2006 led to major losses of the governing Christian conservative "People's Party" (ÖVP) which fell from over 40% to slightly over 34% and came in second behind the Social Democrats (SPÖ) who also lost but much less [see details in this diary and this comment on ET _DoDo]. The Green Party made the third place for the first time in their history, but with only some 500 (!) votes before the resurgent new Freedom Party (FPÖ) under its new, perpetually smirking xenophobe and anti-EU leader Strache. On the fourth place the ÖVP's late coalition partner, the BZÖ (the more opportunistic splinter of the old Freedom Party) just made it into parliament.
Promoted by Colman
The following are the theoretically possible majority coalitions and the reasons they haven't materialised:
- ÖVP - BZÖ - FPÖ: Although the ÖVP under Schüssel infamously formed a coalition with the old FPÖ in 2000 (leading to the "EU sanctions" against Austria), they are somewhat more reluctant to work with the new, even more radical right-wing FPÖ now. Moreover, BZÖ and FPÖ - the two splinter parties that emerged from the old Freedom Party which broke apart under the strain of governing [with BZÖ staying in the government coalition] - still hate each other. Also, the new FPÖ leader Strache has little to gain from entering a coalition with the ÖVP as ineffectual and incompetent small partner (this, after all, is what killed the old FPÖ). Much better for him to lean back and pose as the upright opposition man.
- SPÖ - BZÖ - FPÖ: The SPÖ refuses to work with either BZÖ or FPÖ due to ideological and (one must assume) personal differences. The same points as above hold with respect to BZÖ-FPÖ.
- SPÖ - Greens - FPÖ/BZÖ: The same points as above, and the Greens are probably the party most opposed to either FPÖ or BZÖ. Had the BZÖ not made it into parliament (they only did so by 0.1%), an SPÖ-Green coalition would have been possible.
- SPÖ - ÖVP: This was the final and most realistic possibility and widely assumed to come about. Austria has a very long history of the so-called "Grand Coalitions" between SPÖ and ÖVP, which pretty much governed the country between them before the rise of the "old" FPÖ in the 1990s disrupted traditional political certainties. However, the SPÖ is very resentful of the current ÖVP which has governed with much arrogance and contempt in the last 7 years and pushed through many reforms hated by the Social Democrats and their base (such as university fees). Moreover, the election campaign was very personal and dirty (for the Austrian context) and has created a lot of additional personal animosity.
Nevertheless, as the only realistic possibility for a government, coalition talks began a few days ago. However, they've now ground to a stand-still. This is partly due to the above mentioned differences which led to an icy climate from the beginning. But the trigger was that while talking with the ÖVP, the SPÖ cooperated with the FPÖ and the Greens (a rather unusual combination!) to force through an official parliamentary inquiry into the ÖVP-BZÖ government's very controversial acquisition of Eurofighter jets.
At the moment it looks like neither SPÖ nor ÖVP will back down, which will make new elections inevitable.
Some Images for illustration:
The current/parting Chancellor and leader of the ÖVP, Wolfang Schüssel. He likes to present himself (not unsuccessfully) as the serious, reliable elder statesman:
Alfred Gusenbauer, the notoriously unphotogenic leader of the Social Democrats [edit: the "unphotogenic" is an unfair stereotype per se, but accurate insofar as Gusenbauer does not sell himself very well generally]. In my opinion, he embodies many of the flaws of the current SPÖ (maybe a later diary), although his basic attitudes and opinions seem to be in the right (or rather, left) place:
Alexander Van der Bellen, the well-liked leader of the Green Party and an Economics Professor. He has helped build up the Greens from a fringe party with about 5% to a formidable force of about 10-11%. However, my feeling is that this support is still somewhat shakey compared to the seemingly inborn minimum of 10% the right-wing FPÖ will always poll (almost) no-matter what.
Hans Christian Strache, the smirking face of the new radical right in Austria. In the first session of the new parliament yesterday, these sad jokers turned up with blue flowers stuck to their suits, the erstwhile symbol of the German nationalists in the Habsburg Monarchy and later adopted by the forbidden Nazi party in the First Republic (before the Anschluss to the Third Reich). The poster reads "GERMAN instead of 'I no understand' You have the choice!":
The following is an earlier, typical poster of the new FPÖ. As can be seen, it shows a muslim woman in a Burka made from the EU flag. It reads: "Shall that be our future? Austrians say NO! Austria remains free!". Quite an amazing merging of stereotypes directed against the EU, negotiations with Turkey and the relatively large Turkish minority in Austria. It is quite telling for the base effectiveness the Freedom Party achieves by targeting the lowest instincts:
Finally, we have the sleazy frontman of the BZÖ, Peter Westenthaler. He changed his original Czech surname "Hojac" to the present German sounding one (his mother's maiden name), supposedly because the former was too foreign for his xenophobe pals in the old Freedom Party and new BZÖ. He is the prototype of the incompetent, aggressive opportunists that were swept into the highest positions of Austrian politics during the rise of the old FPÖ under Jörg Haider (whose personal secretary he was). Schuessel gave them access to government through his decision to form a coalition with Haider's FPÖ in 2000. The latter is now also in the BZÖ, governor of the southern state Kärnten and pulling the strings from behind.