Sunday, September 24, 2006

Choice for Austria

One week after the Swedísh election, and one week until the voters go to the polls in Austria.

You might remember all the fuss that was created after right-wuing FPÖ under Jorg Haider had their success in the autumn 1999 election and eventually was made the coalition partner of centre-right ÖVP under Wolfgang Schuessel.

It was then said that this would open the floodgates to rightist populist parties throughout Europe. Indignation was overflowing selected European capitals.

I never believed in those theories, and thought that Schuessel did the right thing.

Up until then the country had been governed by a larga coalition between the Social Democrats SPÖ and ÖVP. It was seen as big, overpowering, bureucratic and bordering on the corrupt.

And the FPÖ vote was essentially a vote by the young people of Austria for change. You couldn't really vote for ÖVP or SPÖ if you wanted change - there was only FPÖ. And they got nearly 30 % of the vote.

Since then the Schuessel strategy has proved itself.

He has governed successfully - getting a new mandate in the November 2002 elections - and has gradually marginalized Haider to the point that he is now almost completely limited to his regional position in Kärnten.

The election now is a race between ÖVP and SPÖ for position number one, and then it will be a question of coalitions.

At the moment it looks very much as if ÖVP will come out on top. Schuessel is well ahead in opinion polls, and seems to have won the key duel with the SPÖ leader without much of difficulty.

And SPÖ is seriously tarnished by scandals and failure in a bank more or less affiliated with the trade unions it is very close to. Not a niced story.

But to win is one thing - to form a coalition will be another.

At the moment speculation is that Schuessel will have to chose between a coalition with the SPÖ and one with the Greens. My guess is that he would prefer to test the later alternative - with a coalition with SPÖ being the default option.

In either case it will be a significant accomplishment if Wolfgang Schuessel comes out on top in this election as well.

In my opinion there is little doubt that he deserves it. Austria is doing very well under him.