Now the final lap beginnings, a year from now the leaders of the Parties will have line-up on TV to hear the formal declaration of the Austrian general election result. A few days later the votes of citizens living overseas will have been added and the final tally of seats confirmed for the new Parliament. (Unless of course the governing coalition decides to divorce, a course of action which is in neither parties interest as they have potential more to gain by sticking it out).
I expect to be blogging this time next year about how the election campaign went for each of the parties and anticipating the final outcome of the on-going negotiations to form a new governing coalition. With a few exceptions the election result in Austria, since the war, has been about determining the relative strength of the two main parties within a Grand Coalition government. So set is this pattern that certain ministries are effectively Black (ÖVP – conservative) or Red (SPÖ – Social Democrats), whilst the post of Chancellor (equivalent of British Prime Minister) and control of some ministries is determined by the election result.
As we go into this election campaign year it looks increasingly likely that the next government will be formed by at least three parties. My running average of the last five polls (see table 1) has the SPÖ/ ÖVP governing coalition with just 50% of the vote between them and both parties share of the vote down since January 2012. The picture is just as bad for the two Far-Right parties FPÖ and BZÖ which have both seen their poll rating drop over the same period. The big winners have been ‘Others’ with, in particular, ‘Team Stronach’ (who formally launch later this week) attracting voters (see table 2).
Table 1: Average of last five polls & change since January 2012
|Polls Av Now||Jan-12||Change|
Table 2: Average ratings across five recent opinion polls including ‘Team Stronach’ Party
In the last year the story of the polls has changed. We’ve had the challenge of the FPÖ and the decline/collapse of the ÖVP – linked in particular to historical issues of corruption. We’ve had the FPÖ, extremism, corruption and the softness of their vote. We’ve had the potential for new parties (20% want new party when asked). Now we have the arrival of new parties and the corruption questions facing the old parties (excluding the Greens – current slogan ‘100% Bio, 0% Corrupt’).
When politics here is not dominated by events in the parliamentary committee investigating corruption, the other game for politicians is who will be my partner(s) in a future coalition. Here are the mostly likely combinations and their problems:
Potential: Despite being a coalition of left & right this is also the ‘traditional’ combination which knows how to function together and can balance the demands of urban (SPÖ) & rural voters (ÖVP) respectively.
Negatives: Falling out of love with each other. Majority of voters want to see them work more effectively together but a feeling exists that they can’t move the country forward together. Their core vested interests make tackling some of the big issues difficult if not impossible.
Potential: Although a lot of dislike between party activists, the experience of working together in the governing Vienna State coalition has been seen by many as a success that could be repeated at national level. Talk of such a coalition seems to have contributed to the Greens maintaining/improving their poll ratings.
Negatives: Most importantly the polls show no evidence of this alliance gaining a majority in the next parliament. Potential advance of the Greens would be at the expense of SPÖ/ÖVP votes which makes them a threat as well as a potential partner. While both SPÖ & Greens are ‘left of centre’ there are real political and cultural differences that could undermine a potential/actual coalition.
Potential: This formation is not as odd as it first looks. ÖVP and Greens have worked together at State level and there is potential for achieving a working agreement between the three parties. This would also represent a coalition of three pro-European parties in the current parliament.
Negatives: Potential advance of the Greens would be at the expense of SPÖ/ÖVP votes which makes them a threat as well as a potential partner. ÖVP strategy currently is to aggressively attack the Greens who themselves are keen to highlight their differences with the ÖVP, all of which will complicate potential future discussions.
SPÖ/ ÖVP/Team Stronach
Potential: If ‘Team Stronach’ actually are economically more liberal there could be enough common ground between the three parties to agree a programme of reforms that many in the current government would argue are necessary. Stronach’s current statements about wanting a reformed Europe and out of/changed Euro seem to be sufficiently vague at present not to create an anti-European obstacle.
Negatives: Stronach himself has said that he wants to be the next Chancellor. The Austro-Canadian billionaire businessman has something of a reputation amongst opponents for wanting to ‘lead’ and not being much of a ‘team player. It’s difficult to see the other two parties being willing to concede this demand even if he had the largest faction. Stronach appears to favour a more North American approach to economic issues and this may not sit well even with the more ‘liberal’ wing of the conservative ÖVP.
Potential: Right of centre coalition would on paper have more in common than the current grand coalition. They’d probably be able to build a working programme with an odd mix of ‘liberal’ and protectionist economic policy combined with a more conservative social policy than the current government.
Negatives: This would be a pro/lukewarm/anti European coalition. A liberal/conservative/protectionist alliance in the economic field. The respective party leaders of Team Stronach and the FPÖ would find it difficult (I suspect) to accept the other as Chancellor and the leader of the ÖVP would find leading a government with the other two in the wings tricky (if they can’t lead I would not be surprised to see Stronach and Strache avoiding government posts and heckling from the sidelines).
Potential: Right of centre coalition would have enough common ground to form a working programme which would include privatisation and a more nationalistic, conservative approach to social/economic issues. Talk of such an alliance strengthens the ability of the ÖVP to keep hold of it more right leaning support and lends respectability to the Far-Right FPÖ. The threat of a deal with the FPÖ is one of the key negotiating cards the ÖVP has in dealing with the SPÖ if they find themselves in Grand Coalition talks again, so keeping the option open has a value in itself.
Negatives: The regular reminders of the FPÖ’s more unacceptable views strengthen the hand of those in the ÖVP who believe such a coalition is a step too far. We’ve been here before with an ÖVP/ FPÖ coalition government. The corruption scandals from that time still dominate the political landscape and are/have damaged each party (but particularly the ÖVP). Talk of such a renewed alliance is ammunition to their opponents. The additional problem for the ÖVP is that such talk stops it drawing centrist and liberal votes back into its camp and runs risk of driving those still remaining into the arms of other parties. The final problem with this scenario is that with the FPÖ’s vote having declined from its opinion poll highs and vulnerable to further loss of support ‘Team Stronach’, the two parties may not be able to muster sufficient numbers for governing together to be an option.
Note on others
The above scenarios could further be complicated if the Pirate Party, one of the Liberal groupings or another minor/new faction can reach the 4% level needed to enter parliament. The only other party in the current parliament, the BZÖ, looks likely to drop out at the next elections as it now consistently only commands around 2%-3% support in the polls.
Table 3: Average ratings across five recent opinion polls
|Note 1: Pirates only appeared separately in Gallup polls|
|Note 2: Stronach only apears in Gallup, Karmasin & OMG polls|
|Note 3: Pirates/Stronach incorporated into Others in above table until they appear in all polls|
Charge in support across the political spectrum since last election: