Austria's ruling parties set for worst ever result

Austria's ruling parties set for worst ever result

VIENNA - Polls opened Sunday in Austria's general election, with the country's two-party centrist coalition likely to stay in power but possibly with their worst result ever.

A week after neighbouring Germany handed Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats 41.5 per cent of votes, Austria's Social Democrats (SPOe) and conservative People's Party (OeVP) can only wish for such a result - despite both trying to model themselves on the German chancellor.

Indeed, they might need a third party to secure a majority of seats in parliament, as they look set for their poorest election results since 1945.

Opinion polls in the last week had the SPOe at around 27-28 per cent of votes and the OeVP at 22-25 per cent.

"No clear alternative will emerge," political scientist Anton Pelinka told AFP.

The two parties have dominated Austrian politics since 1945, often in a so-called "grand coalition."

But many voters, looking for change, have turned to the far-right Freedom Party (FPOe) and the environmental Greens, as well as new, smaller groups like The New Austria (NEOS) and Team Stronach, the party of an 81-year-old Austro-Canadian billionaire.

This is partly due to a string of recent corruption scandals that have plagued many of the main parties.

One of Europe's wealthiest countries with a notoriously high standard of living, Austria has been largely sheltered from the continent's financial woes.

Still, key campaign issues included taxes, pensions and unemployment - even though the small alpine country has the lowest jobless rate in the European Union at 4.8 per cent.

Which coalition?

Nipping at the OeVP's heels with around 20 per cent support, the FPOe is however unlikely to get a place at the coalition table after the outcry that followed its entry into government in 2000 under Joerg Haider, who had made headlines by praising Hitler's employment policies.

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