Tue, Oct 03, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Surprise victory in Austrian vote


Austria's opposition Social Democrats won a surprise victory on Sunday in general elections over conservatives who have run the country for six years in a controversial alliance with the far right.

In one of the tightest election battles in decades, the Social Democrats took 35.7 percent of the vote, giving them 68 seats in the 183-member parliament, while Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel's People's Party (OeVP) won 34.2 percent, leaving it with 66 seats.

The slim margin of victory opened the door to multiple scenarios over what form a future government might take, with some 400,000 absentee ballots to be tallied by Oct. 10.

One possibility would be a grand coalition joining the Social Democrats and the People's Party, with the socialist party leader Alfred Gusenbauer the chancellor.

Another would see Gusenbauer leading an alliance between his party and the Greens environmental party, who took 10.5 percent of the vote.

Observers also pointed out that Schuessel might have the numbers to form his own coalition with two far-right parties.

"I think there are only two real possibilities at this point, a grand coalition or Schuessel repeating what he did six years ago with an alliance with the far right," University of Vienna professor Walter Manoschek said.

Schuessel had finished behind the Social Democrats in the general elections of 1999 that led to the rightist ruling alliance in 2000.

The far-right Alliance for Austria's Future party, led by nationalist Joerg Haider, appeared to have scraped into parliament with 4.2 percent of the vote.

The Freedom Party, which has taken over the anti-immigrant positions that Haider had advocated in his pre-coalition days, was a big winner, with 11.1 percent of the vote -- making it the third most popular party.

Still, most analysts expected that Haider's party's days in government -- as a junior coalition partner in Schuessel's administration -- were effectively ended, especially since there are signs of bad blood among the rightist groupings.

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