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Sunday 17 November 2019

Socialists thwart anti-migration party to hold Vienna

Heinz Christian Strache from the right-wing Freedom Party celebrates his election victory in Vienna, but the Socialists held on to city hall (AP)
Heinz Christian Strache from the right-wing Freedom Party celebrates his election victory in Vienna, but the Socialists held on to city hall (AP)

The Socialist party has held on to Vienna in a municipal election, fighting off a challenge from a right-wing populist party campaigning on Austrian concerns over mass migration.

But the win was coupled with a loss in support. With all votes except absentee ballots counted, the Socialists received 39.44% of the ballot, down nearly five percentage points. The Freedom Party had 32.26%, up more than six percentage points from the last election five years ago.

The result leaves the Socialists in position to continue governing the Austrian capital in coalition. Still, they give the Freedom Party its best result in Vienna. They also reflect voter anxiety about the thousands of migrants entering Austria daily as they flee conflict in the Middle East and elsewhere.

The preliminary results showed the Green Party with 11.14%. That would leave them in position to remain as the Socialist coalition partners. Losing significant backing was the centrist People's Party at 8.7%, more than five percentage points below their 2010 showing.

Also clearing the 5% hurdle needed to gain seats in the Vienna legislature were the liberal NEOS, according to the preliminary results. Contesting their first Vienna election, they won 5.95% of the vote.

With another five-year term for his Socialists a certainty, Vienna mayor Michael Haeupl said he "could live well" with the results. Alluding to the Freedom Party's anti-immigrant message, he said he remained convinced that people fleeing terror and hunger had to be helped, adding: "That's what I have stood for in my whole political life."

Freedom Party leader Heinz-Christian Strache also said he was satisfied. "You cannot dismiss" the party's best-ever showing, he said.

Polls ahead of the vote had shown the Socialists in front with more than a third of the vote, but with the Freedom Party close behind and concerns about the uncontrolled daily influx of thousands of migrants fleeing violent world regions the top concern of the electorate.

While 67.6% of the electorate voted five years ago, the estimated turnout for the vote stood at 74%, including still to be counted absentee ballots.

Analysts said Mr Strache's portrayal of the election as a "revolution" and a "duel" with Haeupl, as well as his party's anti-migrant message, helped the Socialists win by a larger-than-projected margin.

Even as many traditional Socialist voters turned to the Freedom Party to further erode traditional blue-collar Socialist support, many people who normally don't vote Socialist - or do not vote at all - did so this time to prevent a Freedom Party triumph.

The Freedom Party has already made huge gains in several provincial elections this year, at the expense of the Socialists and the centrist People's Party, but it has not won outright. Those establishment parties have governed on all levels in Austria with few exceptions since the end of the Second World War.

Run-off mayoral elections were also held in 44 communities in Upper Austria province. But "Red Vienna" was a special prize. The city has been governed by the Socialists since the end of the war.

PA Media

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