Austria elects a new National Council

Shortly before Austrians elect a new National Council on Sunday polls give the conservative ÖVP led by ex-chancellor Sebastian Kurz a substantial lead. The previous government consisting of the conservative ÖVP and the far-right FPÖ collapsed as a result of the Ibiza scandal involving former FPÖ leader Heinz-Christian Strache. The latter has now also been implicated in an expenses scandal. This and other factors prompt concern about the state of Austrian politics.

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Neue Zürcher Zeitung (CH) /

Shallow campaign highlights crisis in politics

The most salient aspect of the election campaign was its utter lack of substance, criticises philosopher Konrad Paul Liessmann in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung, attributing this to

“interaction between parties and the media that apparently have no interest in tackling contentious issues or coming up with political ideas and concepts that deserve serious debate. It's far easier to focus on the shock effect of even the most trivial things in order to attract attention and perhaps a few votes. But beneath the surface lies a fundamental political crisis. A mood prevails, and probably not just in Austria, that signals that the parties are somehow in agreement on the key issues anyway, so there's no point in sparking controversy.”

Der Standard (AT) /

Right-wing parties attacking religious freedom

Shortly before the elections the conservative parties, including ex-chancellor Kurz's (turquoise) ÖVP and the (blue) FPÖ, passed resolutions in the National Council against "political Islam". Der Standard sees this as an attack on religious freedom:

“The extent to which the critique of Muslims predominantly by the Blue and the Turquoise has struck a chord with the people was made clear by the 2018 Social Survey: 70 percent of respondents agreed completely or largely with the statement that Islam doesn't fit in with the Western world. 51 percent are largely or altogether of the opinion that there should be restrictions on Muslim religious practices. The latter in particular is a warning signal, because it shows that here in Austria a majority of people are against religious freedom, which - like all human rights - is indivisible.”

Mladá fronta dnes (CZ) /

Kurz spoiled for choice

Ex-chancellor Sebastian Kurz will be able to pick and choose when it comes to coalition partners, Mladá fronta dnes predicts:

“Kurz can count not just on the FPÖ, whose 'Ibizagate' scandal made the snap election necessary. ... He has other alternatives too. He could team up with the Greens, who are polling at 13 percent. He could also secure a stable majority with the liberal Neocons. With these coalition partners Kurz would acquire the gleam of a moderniser, which could balance out his conservative image. It looks like he'll be spoiled for choice.” (UA) /

FPÖ leader anything but a liberal

Political scientist Heorhij Kukhaleishvili comments in on the FPÖ and its chairman Norbert Hofer:

“Hofer was never a liberal. He is a bigger Eurosceptic than Orbán or Salvini. ... During the 2016 presidential election campaign he rejected the signing of a free trade agreement between the EU and the US and called for a referendum on Austria's EU membership in the event of an extension of the powers of the European Commission and other supranational bodies. Hofer is against taking in refugees and against Turkey's EU accession. He supports a restrictive migration policy and the deportation of Muslims. He wants to the Italian part of South Tyrol to be integrated into Austria.”

Wiener Zeitung (AT) /

Expenses scandal puts FPÖ in a bind

According to media reports Strache claimed up to 10,000 euros per month in expenses. This has prompted a discussion about his being excluded from the party. The Wiener Zeitung describes what this new scandal means for the FPÖ in the run-up to the election:

“This has turned the FPÖ into a powder keg that could (but might not) blow at any moment. However, an open break with Strache could - at least from today's perspective - have unforeseeable consequences, from exposing all the party's dirty laundry to triggering the founding of a new party. This development will inevitably have an effect on the process of forming a government after the elections: a new turquoise [ÖVP-FPÖ] government has now become even less likely than it was after the Ibiza scandal. Less likely, but not impossible.”

Azonnali (HU) /

Kurz could be happy with a weakened FPÖ

The news website Azonnali speculates on the impact of the FPÖ splitting up:

“Ex-chancellor Sebastian Kurz (ÖVP) would benefit. Kurz would rather cooperate with the weakened remains of the FPÖ, led by the affable Norbert Hofer, than with an FPÖ which is polling at over 20 percent and in which Strache and Herbert Kickl still play a significant role. Hofer was elected leader by a large majority at the party conference in September, but the appearance of unity is deceptive. It's more like a truce: the debates will flare up again after the elections, when the exclusion of Strauss becomes a serious topic and Kickl can't join a new Kurz government.”