If the election forecasts are to be believed, the outcome of the election of the Vienna State Parliament and City Council was in part well predictable. This applies especially to the Vienna Social Democrats, who emerged as the winners with around 42 percent.
Michael Ludwig, as acting mayor and governor of the province, won his first election after long-term mayor Michael Häupl (1994-2018) had left politics. He was able to gain two percentage points, which gives him strength and stability to the Viennese SPÖ.
The result of the extreme right wing Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ) in particular was eagerly awaited. At the latest since Heinz-Christian Strache took over the party in 2005, Vienna was considered a stronghold of the FPÖ – unlike under Jörg Haider, who had his home in Carinthia as governor. After the debacle around Ibiza and the party expulsion of the longtime party leader Strache due to alleged financial scandals as well as the departure of the former Viennese party leader Johann Gudenus from politics, the Viennese FPÖ stood there with a relatively headless leadership and let the colorless Dominik Nepp go into the election campaign as party leader.
Since Strache meanwhile ran for election together with loyal members of his party, the FPÖ was doubly weakened. In 2015, the FPÖ was still the second strongest party with 30 percent, but now only managed to win seven percent, falling back to fifth place. Strache and his list Team HC did not even make it into the Vienna Parliament. The extreme right-wing camp is thus weakened as never before. The FPÖ not only loses a large part of its mandataries including financial resources, but also prestigious positions such as the non-official vice mayor posts. This also raises questions for the FPÖ, which has been so badly hit at the federal level. Internal power struggles for the leadership are on the way – with the FPÖ provincial governor in Upper Austria, Manfred Haimbuchner, who recently went away empty-handed in the short-lived coalition government of ÖVP and FPÖ and could pose the question of power in the medium term.
But there are also bigger questions for other parties. Since Vienna, with its almost two million inhabitants, is the only major urban population besides the other almost seven million inhabitants of Austria, the capital city is especially important for nonconservative parties. Vienna is not only considered the red main enemy of the Turkish ÖVP under the leadership of Federal Chancellor Sebastian Kurz. It is also the only red-green stronghold that stands for a socially open, urban population.
With a strength of almost 42 percent and an increase of two seats (out of a total of 100), the election of the SPÖ Vienna is not only important for the capital. On the one hand, it could continue the coalition with the Greens that has existed since 2010 and thus continue a policy of relative strength but also of a strengthening green movement. In the end, both parties have to account for a gain of almost five percent. Failure to include the Greens, who came in third place with 14.8 percent, could have bad consequences for the party, especially at the federal level. For there they are forming a coalition with the Christian Democrats, who are threatening to wear down their junior partner especially in the human rights area – which is one of several core issues of the Greens. Without Vienna, the Greens would hardly have a progressive policy in this area. And the Vienna Greens, who are most critical of a coalition with the Turkish ÖVP at the federal level, could then bring some unrest to the federal level.
With the most important federal political player, the Turkish ÖVP, coalition formation seems least likely anyway. The ÖVP has withdrawn a good part of the electorate from the FPÖ, while the majority of the FPÖ has stayed at home. This also stands for the ÖVP’s more right-wing profile, which is no longer distinguishable from the extreme right-wing FPÖ on central issues. Even if the ÖVP celebrates its electoral success: It was not difficult to grow from the historically worst result ever for the ÖVP in 2015 (eight percent) to more than 20 percent.
That still leaves the NEOS, a sister party of the FDP that emerged from the ÖVP but usually has more liberal attitudes in the socio-cultural area. It started with a little-known top candidate and tries to trump with the slogan for more control of the very powerful SPÖ Vienna government. On the one hand, the SPÖ could, with exactly this slogan for more transparency, bring such a government on board to reduce this criticism. At the same time, the NEOS, which are less tried and tested in terms of government technology and have only achieved seven percent, would be an easier game for the SPÖ Vienna. While the Greens have already learned a lot in the last two legislative periods. However, the NEOS and the SPÖ have less overlap in content, especially in the social sector.
In the end, a bitter aftertaste for democracy remains. While it was already complained in the run-up to the elections that a large part of the Viennese population – about one third – is not entitled to vote, about 435,000 people cast no vote or an invalid vote. This group is thus the largest. As the strongest party, the SPÖ received 294,000 votes. Whoever wants to form a coalition with the SPÖ: a mandate for more co-determination in the city of human rights, which strives to promote the comprehensive participation of its inhabitants in decision-making processes, should apply to every party.
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