I’m writing this on the train to Vienna. Today is Sunday, September 29, Austria’s general elections are over and the result was surprisingly positive. In my opinion, at least.
The Green Party is back in parliament, with a whopping 14% and their best result ever. Sebastian Kurz’ populist “New People’s Party” (the old conservatives in disguise) has won the expected landslide victory, the Social Democrats have been decimated for basically nothing, and the extreme right Freedom Party got their well deserved punishment.
The Freedom Party was the reason why we ran into early elections at all. Two years ago, the party’s leader and his deputy were invited to the spanish island of Ibiza, seemingly by the niece of a russian oligarch. In their talks, Mr Strache, the party leader showed an unprecedented openness for corruption.
Strache basically offered the country’s biggest newspaper and massive business opportunities in government projects in exchange for money for the party and illegal financing of election campaigns. They consumed lots of alcohol and there were tracks of white powder on the table.
Unfortunately - for Mr Strache - it was a trap. Seven hours of video were taken, and some of the juiciest scenes were finally published by two german newspapers in May. Mr Kurz’ government fell, and since then the stream of scandals around the Freedom Party did not cease.
It turned out that Strache, quickly replaced as leader, allegedly had lived a luxury life on party funds, official and unofficial. For a party that sells itself as the stalwart and honest defender of the common people, this did not run down too well. Still, in the end 16% gave their votes for a party of compulsive liars, corrupt zombies and nazis - and I mean “and”, not “or” 😃
In the end we have an interesting situation. Kurz can choose from three partners for his next government: again the disgraced Freedom Party (which people wouldn’t understand), the Social Democrats (they hate each other from decades of paralyzed coalitions) and the Green Party.
None of these possible coalitions looks like an easy win. All those pairings are unpopular in both parties’ electorates. The People’s Party would have preferred the neo-liberals, basically a modern version of themselves, but the Neos are too weak.
Greens and Social Democrats would prefer each other, but even with the Neos in a challenging coalition, they would not reach a majority.
The Freedom Party has almost begged for an extension to their former coalition with Kurz, but, apart from themselves, nobody can imagine them in a government any more.
I see interesting times coming.