Austrian ruling coalition faces far-right challenge in vote

Austrian ruling coalition faces far-right challenge in vote
A little girl casts a ballot for her mother in the Austrian general election at a polling station in Vienna September 29, 2013.

VIENNA - Austrians voted in a parliamentary election on Sunday with a resurgent far right party challenging the political establishment and calling for an end to taxpayer-funded bailouts of struggling euro zone countries.

The governing Social Democrats (SPO) and their People's Party (OVP) conservative partners were counting on their record in piloting the Alpine republic through the global financial crisis relatively unscathed to win another five-year term.

Opinion polls indicated the two pro-Europe parties that have dominated post-war politics would scrape through to a combined majority, with the anti-immigrant and eurosceptic Freedom Party (FPO) hard on their heels.

"My gut feeling is fine," Chancellor Werner Faymann said as he cast his vote in Vienna. But the two mainstream parties may need to find a third partner to govern should two small blocs clear the 4 per cent hurdle for entering parliament.

The environmentalist Greens, an opposition party that has sided with the coalition on European issues such as creating the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) bailout fund, is the most likely option should the big two need a partner to govern.

Heinz-Christian Strache's FPO could improve on the 17.5 per cent it got in the 2008 election. It may even overtake the OVP despite competition from car-parts magnate Frank Stronach's new party, also eurosceptic but without the anti-foreigner tone.

Unlike in neighbouring Germany, where Chancellor Angela Merkel scored a landslide victory on Sept. 22 partly on the strength of the German economy, many Austrians feel hard done-by despite the lowest EU jobless rate and economic growth clearly above the EU average.

Around 19 per cent of the Austrian population are first- or second-generation immigrants, and the FPO plays on fears that these and asylum-seekers are depriving Austrians of benefits, while euro zone bailouts only benefit banks.

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