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Austria - Politics

Since 1955, Austria has enjoyed political stability. A Socialist elder statesman, Dr. Karl Renner, organized an Austrian administration in the aftermath of the war, and the country held general elections in November 1945. All three major parties--the conservative People's Party (OVP), the Socialists (later Social Democratic Party or SPO), and Communists--governed until 1947, when the Communists left the government. The OVP then led a governing coalition with the SPO that governed until 1966.

Between 1970 and 1999, the SPO governed the country either alone or with junior coalition partners. In 1999, the OVP formed a coalition with the right-wing, populist Freedom Party (FPO). The SPO, which was the strongest party in the 1999 elections, and the Greens formed the opposition. The FPO had gained support because of populist tactics, and many feared it would represent right-wing extremism. As a result, the European Union (EU) imposed a series of sanctions on Austria. The U.S. did not join the sanctions formally, but together with Israel, as well as various other countries, also reduced contacts with the Austrian Government. After a 6-month period of close observation, the EU lifted sanctions, and the U.S. revised its contacts policy.

In the 2002 elections, the OVP became the largest party, and the FPO's strength declined by more than half. Nevertheless, the OVP renewed its coalition with the FPO in February 2003. In national elections in October 2006, the SPO became the largest party, edging out the OVP. On January 11, 2007, an SPO-led grand coalition took office, with the OVP as junior partner. In July 2008, following months of dispute between the ruling parties, the coalition collapsed when Vice Chancellor Wilhelm Molterer (OVP) called for early elections. New elections were held on September 28, 2008, and resulted in the formation of another grand coalition between the SPO and OVP.

The Social Democratic Party traditionally draws its constituency from blue- and white-collar workers. Accordingly, much of its strength lies in urban and industrialized areas. In the 2008 national elections, it garnered 29.7% of the vote. In the past, the SPO advocated state involvement in Austria's key industries, the extension of social security benefits, and a full-employment policy. Beginning in the mid-1980s, it shifted its focus to free market-oriented economic policies, balancing the federal budget, and European Union membership. Following the 2008 financial crisis, the SPO began advocating a tax on global financial transactions and a solidarity tax from Austrian banks that had been bailed out by the government during the crisis.

The People's Party advocates conservative financial policies and privatization of much of Austria's nationalized industry. It finds support from farmers, large and small business owners, and some lay Catholic groups, mostly in the rural regions of Austria. In 2008, it received 25.6% of the vote. The Greens won 9.8% of the vote in 2008, losing ground to become the smallest party in parliament.

Austrias rightist Freedom Party (FPO) saw its popularity grow in a series of national and state elections since 2006. In the 2008 elections, the FPO earned 18% of the vote, up from 11% in 2006. The late Joerg Haider, the former leader of the FPO, split from the party in 2005 to form the Alliance-Future-Austria (BZO). While the BZO barely managed to enter parliament in 2006 with 4.1% of the vote, Haider led his new party to a surprising 10.7% in national elections in 2008. Shortly afterwards Haider died in a car crash, and the BZO subsequently saw some of its deputies return to the FPO as the partys political fortunes declined again.

Federal President Heinz Fischer was reelected for a second term on April 25, 2010.

On 29 September 2013 elections, the Social Democrats finished with 26.8%, followed by the People's Party with 24.0%. Punished by voters tired of political squabbling and policy paralysis, both parties stumbled to their worst electoral results since World War 2 while the anti-immigrant Freedom Party (FPO) got more than a fifth of the seats in parliament.

Austria's parliamentary elections yielded the following distribution of votes (in brackets the allocation of the 183 mandates): SP (Social Democrats) 26.8% (52); VP (People's Party) 24.0% (47), FP (Freedom Party) 20.5% (40); Greens 12.4% ( 24); Team Stronach 5.7% (11) and NEOS 5.0% (9). Both parties of the incumbent grand coalition of SP and VP lost some percentage points which migrated to the eurosceptic FP but also to the Greens. Team Stronach benefited from BZ (Bndnis Zukunft sterreich) dissidents, while NEOS is a newcomer to the Austrian Parliament. BZ did not pass the required 4.0% threshold and hence is not represented in the new Austrian Parliament anymore.

Possible coalitions included a renewed grand coalition of SP and VP with a smaller parliamentary majority than previously (99 mandates), a coalition between the VP, FP and Team Stronach (98 mandates) as well as a coalition between the SP and FP (92 mandates).

Austria's two main pro-European parties reached an agreement 11 December 2013 to form a new government following more than two months of negotiations. After receiving a narrow majority in the September 2013 election, the center-left Social Democrats and the center-right People's Party once again joined in a grand coalition government, a model that had dominated Austria's postwar history.

In the National Council (Nationalrat) 183 members are elected through an open-list proportional representation system to serve 5-year terms. There are 9 multi-member constituencies corresponding to each of the states. Each of these is subdivided into smaller, regional constituencies, of which there are 43 in total. Each party fields regional, state, and national lists of candidates. Each voter gets one ballot on which she votes for one party and may express candidate preferences within that party's regional and state-level lists. Seat allocation proceeds in three stages.

First, regional seats are allocated (d'Hondt method). Second, provincial seat allocations are calculated, the sums of parties regional seats within each province are subtracted from these totals, and seats are allocated accordingly (d'Hondt method). Third, this process repeats at the national level (Hare method), where party lists are closed. Parties must win at least one seat each in a regional constituency to qualify for seats at the state and national levels. Additionally, any candidate who receives at least one-sixth of her partys votes is automatically awarded a seat. There is a 4 percent threshold for parties to gain representation, although a party that fails to reach this mark may still gain representation if it wins at least one seat in a regional election.




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