The country is currently being governed by a coalition of technocrats that took over in June following one of the country’s worst political crises since World War Two.

Next Sunday, millions of Austrian voters will head to the ballot box for legislative elections, a vote that will decide who governs the country after the collapse of a coalition between the ruling conservative party and the far-right party earlier this year.

With a population of an estimated 8.76 million people, Austria enjoys a generally high voter turnout. According to the Election Guide watchdog, an average of 74 percent of voters cast their ballot during elections.

The country is currently being governed by a coalition of technocrats that took over in June following one of the country’s worst political crises since World War Two.

That crisis—which saw the collapse of the coalition between the rightwing Austrian People’s Party (OVP) and the far-right Freedom Party of Austria (FPO)—stemmed from a controversial incident now known as the “Ibiza scandal”.

What was the Ibiza scandal?

During the October 2017 legislative elections, Austria endured a far-right surge, which saw the FPO clench around 26 percent of the vote.

The rightwing OVP garnered 31.5 percent of the vote and banded together with the controversial far-right FPO to keep out the Social Democrats, who had taken the second largest share of the vote.

From the time the new OVP-led government was sworn in, in December 2017, its junior coalition partner, the FPO, was embroiled in controversy. 

A spate of highly-criticised incidents prompted backlash against the FPO. Among those were a series of scandals surrounding FPO members’ use of anti-Semitic language and praise of the German Nazis as well as the FPO member and interior minister’s comments about “concentrating” refugees in a single area, a turn of phrase that prompted critics to liken his comments to Holocaust-era rhetoric.

But those scandals paled in comparison to the Ibiza affair.

In May, German media outlets published a video that shows the Austrian deputy chancellor and FPO leader Heinz-Christian Strache in an Ibiza resort, speaking to a woman who claimed to be the niece of a Russian oligarch.

The woman said she would like to gain control of Kronen Zeitung, one of the country’s largest tabloids, and Strache offered public contracts in exchange for electoral campaign support.

The video turned out to be part of a sting operation, and it was leaked to journalists, prompting outcry and condemnation in Austria.

Strache was subsequently pushed to resign, but he described the sting operation as “a honey trap stage-managed by intelligence agencies”.

On May 18, the governing coalition collapsed and an early election was called. On May 27, Chancellor Sebastien Kurz was ousted by a vote of no confidence.

At the time of publication, the FPO had not replied to TRT World’s request for a comment.

Caretaker government

Following the Ibiza affair, President Alexander Van der Bellen appointed a transitional caretaker government to run the country until the September 29 elections.

The president picked Brigitte Bierlein, the country’s chief public prosecutor, to serve as chancellor, as well as a slew of civil servants to fill in the slots for most of the ministries.

A recent poll found that 42 percent of Austrians support Bierlein, while only 32 support former chancellor Kurz.

In July, a poll found that 56 percent of respondents believed the interim government was “good for Austria”.

Possible far-right return to coalition

As the elections approach, the OVP is polling in the lead, although the party has seen its support numbers dip in recent weeks.

The FPO—which is currently polling at around 20 percent—replaced Strache in a recent vote, which saw a reported 98.25 percent of its members choose Norbert Hofer as the party’s new leader.

“We extend a sincere hand to the conservatives [OVP] to continue the work begun together to reform Austria,” Hofer told reporters last month.

Many observers expect that, if the polls prove accurate, the OVP and the FPO will strike up another coalition government.

Founded by former Nazi functionaries after World War Two, the FPO also maintains a cooperation agreement with Russian leader Vladimir Putin’s United Russia Party.

Kurz previously stated that any coalition with the FPO would depend on the party not bringing former firebrand interior minister Herbert Kickl back to government.

NEOS – The New Austria and Liberal Forum is also polling at roughly eight percent, while the Green Party stands at around 12 percent backing.

Farid Hafez, a senior research fellow at Georgetown University’s Bridge Initiative, described an alternative coalition to the OVP-FPO alliance as “quite unrealistic”.

“For me, this is the most realistic option to have a second coalition led by Kurz and this time Hofer,” he told TRT World.

“Why? Both parties still declare their commonalities and argue that the last coalition was a good one going into the right direction.”

“The second option would be a coalition between the OVP and NEOS, which would only work if NEOS receives up to 20 percent of the votes,” he said, adding that the possibility seemed distant owing to the comparably low support for NEOS in polls.

Source: TRT World