VIENNA – Austria's two main political parties looked on Monday to have little alternative but to continue their "grand coalition" for another five years after just scraping together a majority in elections.
This is unless the conservatives attempt a repeat of their 2000 coalition with the third-placed far-right, which saw its share of the vote increase four percentage points.
In their worst result since 1945, the Social Democrats (SPOe) of Chancellor Werner Faymann, 53, won 27.1 per cent, down from 29.3 per cent at the last election in 2008, provisional official results showed.
The conservative People's Party (OeVP), Faymann's partners since 2008, fell to 23.8 per cent from 26.0 per cent, a far cry from scores comfortably over 40 per cent in decades gone by.
Heinz-Christian Strache's nationalist and eurosceptic Freedom Party (FPOe) was very close behind on 21.4 per cent, up from 17.5 per cent in 2008 but short of Joerg Haider's record 27 per cent in 1999.
The results mean that the SPOe and the OeVP lost nine seats between them in parliament, leaving them with 99 MPs in the 183-seat parliament. The FPOe have 42, up eight. Austria has the lowest unemployment rate in the European Union, but voters were looking for an alternative to the two long-dominant parties which appear to have achieved little since 2008.
They were also damaged by a number of corruption scandals.
"For some reason they never managed to communicate to people that compared to other European countries, things are pretty good," Marcelo Jenny, political scientist at Vienna University.
Michael Spindelegger, 53, OeVP leader, called the result a "lesson." Commentator Thomas Hofer called it a "warning" and said that if they form another coalition, the parties had to overcome their "mutual blockade" preventing progress on issues like taxation and education.
Another "grand coalition" appeared to most likely outcome, although Spindelegger late Sunday refused to rule out forming a government with the far-right, saying "everything is possible".
A tie-up between the OeVP and the Freedom Party happened once before in 2000 when the conservatives formed a government with Haider, prompting an outcry in Europe.
Strache, 44, who has campaigned on a platform of "Love Thy Neighbour" – provided the neighbour is not a foreigner – said on Sunday that his party was "the winner of the night".
The two main parties "would be well advised not just to go back to business as usual," Strache said. "Spindelegger has the chance to break free." Spindelegger and Strache would however need a third party to obtain a majority.
The election also saw the Greens, unsullied by corruption scandals and posing as pragmatic environmentalists, increase their share of the vote to a record 11.5 per cent from 10.4 per cent.
Falling short of the four per cent needed to win seats was the Alliance for Austria's Future (BZOe), founded by Haider in 2005 when he split from the Freedom Party, three years before his death.
Elected to parliament for the first time on 5.8 per cent is Team Stronach, formed last year when billionaire Frank Stronach, 81, returned from Canada vowing to shake up the country of his birth.
Another new party is the liberal New Austria (NEOS), bankrolled by an industrialist and strongly pro-European, who won 4.8 per cent. AFP