State elections in Austria: heavy SPÖ defeat in Haider-Land

State elections in Austria: heavy SPÖ defeat in Haider-Land

In Carinthia, the Social Democrats can still continue their previous coalition with the ÖVP, but a right-wing tripartite alliance would also be possible.

SPÖ leader Pamela Rendi-Wagner in front of microphones on Sunday evening

SPÖ leader Pamela Rendi-Wagner on Sunday evening: The criticism of her should now increase again Photo: Barbara Gindl/APA/dpa

VIENNA taz | The state elections in the Austrian state of Carinthia brought unexpectedly heavy losses for the governor’s party SPÖ. The Social Democrats fell from an impressive 47.9 percent to 38.9 percent. The election goal of staying over 40 percent was just missed, but the SPÖ remained the strongest party.

But all other relevant parties were able to gain at their expense: the FPÖ (24.5 percent, +1.6) and the right-wing populist regional party Team Carinthia (10.1 percent, +4.4), albeit less than hoped for. The conservative ÖVP has the most to celebrate, which instead of the predicted losses brought in an increase of almost 1.6 percentage points and remained third with 17 percent.

Slight gains were not enough for the Greens to clear the 5 percent hurdle, which they failed to reach in 2018 after a short interlude as the governing party.

The 64-year-old Peter Kaiser has governed the federal state for ten years, which has experienced political roller coasters like no other. In the last 30 years, the ÖVP, FPÖ, BZÖ and SPÖ have governed.

The previous SPÖ-ÖVP coalition was surprisingly harmonious

The era of right-wing national governments did not end with the accidental death of Jörg Haider in 2008, but only five years later, when the majority of his followers ended up in court for various corruption offenses. With Hypo Alpe Adria they left behind a bankrupt bank, a mountain of debt and a polarized society.

Kaiser, who in his sober and matter-of-fact way lives a program that contrasts with Haider’s blustering populism, will start exploratory talks with the other parties in the next few days. A coalition of two would be possible with any of them.

There is much to suggest that Kaiser will continue the coalition with the ÖVP. Aside from disagreements over the sale of Klagenfurt Airport, this alliance has been fairly harmonious. It also corresponds to the wishes of the voters of both parties, as can be read from post-election polls.

A right-wing coalition of three against the SPÖ would also be mathematically possible. The top candidates pointed to this variant in their first reactions, but initially refrained from declaring war on the SPÖ.

Kaiser, who looked tired and disappointed, spoke of a “very painful” result for which he took full responsibility. He is a victim of the electoral trend to punish ruling parties. Although he personally enjoys high approval ratings and would have gotten almost every second vote in a direct election, the voters unloaded their dissatisfaction with inflation, high energy prices and increasing insecurity in the world on those responsible.

In part, low vaccination status correlates with FPÖ votes

The widespread criticism of restrictive corona measures have affected. The FPÖ in particular benefited from this, probably also because the somewhat pale top candidate Erwin Angerer received support from the outspoken party leader Herbert Kickl during the election campaign.

In some communities, the low vaccination status correlates with the FPÖ’s share of the vote. In the case of the ÖVP, the 39-year-old dynamic Deputy Governor Martin Gruber is likely to be responsible for the surprising growth.

Kaiser is a heavyweight in the SPÖ and one of the most important advocates of party leader Pamela Rendi-Wagner, whose chair has long been sawn. The trained doctor was unable to make social democratic alternatives credible either during the Corona crisis or in view of the inflation.

Observers attest to the SPÖ’s self-destructive instinct, with which it tears itself to pieces in personnel discussions after election successes. Even more after defeats. It is therefore to be expected that Rendi-Wagner’s most prominent adversary, Burgenland’s governor Hans-Peter Doskozil, will unpack the saw again in the next few days.

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