Sebastian Kurz Wins Austrian Election, But Loses Former Coalition Partner

As expected, the ÖVP has won the Austrian Nationalrat election – even more convincing than what was projected by the polls. Meanwhile, its former coalition partner FPÖ suffered significant losses. While a pre-election reunion had been anticipated, the FPÖ’s struggles have now opened the door for other possibilities.

The ÖVP’s win does not come as a surprise. Yet, the projected result of 37 per cent, which is an increase of 5.5 percentage points compared to 2017, must have even left Sebastian Kurz in incredulity. The margin of around 14.6 percentage points to the second place is the largest in a Nationalrat election history, leaving Kurz “humble and almost speechless”, before thanking all the supporters and particularly the voters, who had put their faith in him again.

The big winner besides the ÖVP is the Greens, who have reentered parliament with 14 per cent. In 2017, the party failed the 4-per cent hurdle and was therefore not a parliament party. With today’s gain, the previous record result in 2013 (12.4 per cent) appears to have been exceeded. Green’s chair Kogler sent a message into the ÖVP’s direction right away, by emphasizing the party would only participate in a coalition if the “cult members” of the ÖVP agreed to a paradigm shift to more transparency and less Kurz subordination.

Meanwhile, for the SPÖ, the 21.8 per cent result showed a 5 per cent decrease compared to 2017 and thus was shy of the previous historical low of 2013 (26.82 per cent). Nonetheless, both Managing Director Drozda as well as party chair Rendi-Wagner stated that personnel consequences would not be part of the party’s election conclusion.

The evening’s main surprise, however, was the FPÖ’s self-combustion. The Ibiza scandal and a currently investigated misappropriation affair surrounding former party leader Strache resulted in a decrease in votes of almost 10 per cent compared to 2017 and a result of 16 per cent, despite having consistently polled between 20-22 per cent pre-election. After the first projection had been publicized, both Party leader Hofer and former Interior Minister Kickl stated the party would move into the opposition as the results did not provide the necessary votes to counterbalance a now even more potent ÖVP in a coalition.

A sidenote was a significant gain, and the best result in a National Council election for the Neos with 7.8 per cent. Party chair Meinl-Reisinger already accepted that the party’s role would nonetheless likely be one within government participation.

These results leave Kurz with exciting options of a possible coalition. While many signs in the election campaign indicated a renewed coalition between the ÖVP and the FPÖ, the surprising crash has stirred up plans and opened up new possibilities. Thus, a coalition between the ÖVP and the Greens is currently considered a realistic alternative.

Nonetheless, a government with FPÖ participation is not entirely inconceivable at this point, and until further notice, one must see whether Hofer’s flirt with the opposition could turn out to be strategic, as Hofer had repeatedly emphasized his proclivity to govern with the ÖVP again in all of his election campaign appearances.

The status quo leaves nothing but uncertainly for the upcoming week. However, despite the rumours, a government formation with the Greens will be a challenge, with exhibit A being Kogler’s statement. Moreover, it would be a significant change in Kurz’s profile as previous immigration policies, and his vision for Austria would have to be diluted significantly to become acceptable for the Greens. Whether or not this scenario can be an option for Kurz remains to be seen, while answers can be expected in the upcoming days.