The official results for Vienna’s municipal elections are finally in – a day later than usual thanks to COVID-19 and the highest number of absentee ballots to date. The final tally shows small shifts in the initial projections, with the SPÖ now at 41.62%, the ÖVP 20.43%, the Greens 14.80%, the NEOS 7.47% and the FPÖ holding 7.11%. This means a slight loss (0.5%) for the Social Democrats and noteworthy gains of 1.6% for the conservative People’s Party and 0.80% for the Greens – the highest result ever for the leftist-environmental party.
And while the SPÖ remains undefeated in Vienna since 1945 (and in fact in every free election since 1920), they fell short of an absolute majority, requiring a junior partner. In a coalition with the Greens since 2010, the latest developments suggest that continued collaboration isn’t guaranteed: For now, Mayor Ludwig is leaving all options on the table – save for the far-right FPÖ, which he explicitly rejected before the election.
This leaves the ÖVP, the Greens and the liberal NEOS party. A coalition with the ÖVP is unlikely, however, even though neither side has dismissed the option, there are too many points of conflict to form a functioning government, and it is hard to imagine that Sebastian Kurz-confidant and current finance minister Gernot Blümel would give up a powerful ministry to play second fiddle as vice-mayor. In addition, resentment of the Kurz administration runs deep within the SPÖ, with former mayor Michael Häupl even calling them Sozialistenfresser (Socialist Eaters) on Ö1’s Morgenjournal on Wednesday. Still, before the election, Blümel was quoted by APAas saying that he would be open to working with the Reds on a condition they move closer to the center-right.
The prospects for the Green Party and the NEOS are significantly better. However, there have been major disagreements within the existing Red-Green administration as of late – particularly regarding traffic coordination. Ernst Nevrivy, the leader of 22nddistrict of Donaustadt, even went so far as to tell the ORF that losing Green input on traffic would be a great improvement for his district and the city overall. Still, the Green party has been clear they’d prefer to stay in government, with deputy mayor Birgit Hebein’s recent statements encouraging the continuance of the current alliance.
Sources within the party told Der Standard that the green leadership is even prepared to give up their second city council post if that cements the coalition. The strongest argument however may be that their electoral gains show public support for the Red-Green coalition.
Meanwhile, the SPÖ is entertaining the idea of a fresh start with the NEOS – at least publicly. Founded in 2010, the young party has been in government only once before, in coalition with the Greens and the ÖVP in Salzburg in 2018. Their lead candidate Christoph Wiederkehr told APA that the party is willing, however, they have made a partnership contingent on Ludwig’s willingness to invest more in education and the economy. Wiederkehr has also refused up front to accept any position without portfolio in the city senate, i.e. a seat without any departmental assignments.
Vienna is the only municipality with posts of this kind, a result of the strict proportional representation required in its constitution. The city senate – the city’s administrative body consisting of the mayor and selected ministers from the 100-member city council – currently consists of eleven posts four of which have no departments. These posts – with the rank and salary of a minister, but no administrative authority – are normally allocated to those members outside the governing coalition. The NEOs platform calls for all such positions without portfolio to be abolished, something that would require a constitutional amendment.
A committee will meet on Friday to devise further plans, and talks with potential partners are scheduled to begin on Monday. The three-person delegation will be headed by Ludwig with two other members yet to be announced. Before beginning formal negotiations on October 26, they will meet with all factions represented in the municipal council. Ludwig has been adamant that they won’t negotiate simultaneously with multiple candidates. Even though the mayor’s coyness makes it seem like all the bets are off, the power of continuity is likely to reinstate the current Red-Green coalition for another five years.