Austria's ruling parties set for worst poll result since 1945

Austria's ruling parties set for worst poll result since 1945
People line-up in front of polling station to vote during the Austrian general election in Vienna September 29, 2013.

VIENNA - Austrians voted Sunday in general elections that looked likely to keep the two-party centrist coalition in government, but possibly with their worst result since 1945 amid expected inroads by the far-right.

Although Austria has the lowest unemployment rate in the European Union, voters have been looking for an alternative to two parties that have dominated politics for the past 70 years and spent much of the past five years arguing or failing to agree on policy.

The Social Democrats (SPOe) and conservative People's Party (OeVP) - sharing power since 2008 - could even fall short of a majority in parliament, requiring them to find a third partner for the first time in the country's history.

According to the last opinion polls, the SPOe could expect 27-28 per cent of votes and the OeVP 22-25 per cent, which would be their poorest result since 1945.

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

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.

The SPOe and OeVP - led respectively by Chancellor Werner Faymann and Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger - have dominated Austrian politics since 1945, often in a so-called "grand coalition."

"I think Faymann is fine, there isn't anybody else who could do a better job at the moment anyway," Ulli, a 23-year-old student who voted for the SPOe, told AFP at a polling station.

Vanessa, 42, was more resigned: "I don't expect much. I'm just voting to support the democratic process... I wish there were some changes regarding the grand coalition, but I have little hope."

Key campaign issues have included taxes, pensions and unemployment - even though Austria, largely sheltered from Europe's financial woes, has the lowest jobless rate in the European Union at 4.8 per cent.

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