Austria Gets Ready to Vote

The government fell, new elections were called, and Austrians will vote on September 29, 2019. A total of eight parties are running on the national level, another five parties regionally. Each is looking for the largest possible slice of the pie, comprised of 6.4 million voting Austrians – and parties must cross the 4% threshold to enter the National Assembly (Nationalrat), the lower chamber of Austria’s parliament. In Austria, uniquely in Europe, the voting age is 16.

Because they’re outside parliament, the Greens, the Communists (KPÖ) and the leftist party WANDL each needed to collect more than 2,600 signatures to be entered on the ballot, while the five parties currently in the National Assembly needed only to provide the signatures of their MPs. These include the People’s Party (ÖVP), led by Sebastian Kurz; the Social Democrats (SPÖ), led by Pamela Rendi-Wagner; the Freedom Party (FPÖ), led by Norbert Hofer; the Liberal NEOS, led by Beate Meinl-Reisinger; and the Liste Pilz (JETZT), led by Peter Pilz.

Peering into the Crystal Ball

All current parliamentary parties (excluding JETZT) are expected to return to parliament, and the Greens – who, to the surprise of many, failed to win any parliamentary seats in the last election, have been on the rebound ever since. As of mid-August, polls showed the ÖVP leading with 35%, followed by the SPÖ with 23%, FPÖ 20%, NEOS 8%, Greens 11%, JETZT 1.5%, and all others 1.5%.

Austrians are famously fond of their long summer holidays, so election campaigning won’t kick off until early fall. But summer scandals like Schreddergate, the Casino and Novomatic affair and the ongoing investigation into the Ibiza video are sure to shape campaigns, as will hot topics like affordable housing, the climate crisis, the economy and integration.

It is all but certain that at least two parties will need to join forces to form a working government coalition – but a summer of scandal means tensions are running high – so observers should be prepared for weeks or even months of post-election negotiations.

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