In the wake of a controversial presidential election which saw independent candidate Alexander Van der Bellen assume power last January, Austria is holding a parliamentary election this Sunday. In spring the parliament unanimously decided to hold early elections, after the two governing parties, the social democratic Sozialdemokratische Partei Österreich (SPÖ) and the conservative Österreichische Volkspartei (ÖVP), concluded that they could no longer work together due to major disagreements on policy matters.
Since then the political environment in Austria has changed drastically. The Green Party formally expelled its youth organisation after a falling out with its leading members. At a national Green Party congress in June, founding member Peter Pilz, famous for uncovering numerous scandals among previous governments, lost his place on the list of Green Party parliamentary candidates. As a result, he left the party and formed his own organisation called Liste Pilz, with which he is now running for parliament. In an interview with Austrian national broadcaster ORF, he said he hopes to provide an alternative for non-voters and protest-voters, who feel unsatisfied with the current state of affairs.
The ÖVP has also undergone change. After the resignation of Reinhold Mitterlehner as head of the party last spring, foreign minister Sebastian Kurz took control of the ÖVP. As foreign minister he gained popularity in recent years for closing the Balkan route (the main route for refugees coming to Europe in 2015). He aims to transform the image of the ÖVP, by attempting to deprive old, established party members and functionaries of power and changing the party’s colour from black to turquoise.
A poll by the Market Institut predicts an ÖVP win with 33% of votes. The right-wing nationalist freedom party FPÖ comes second with 25%. The Social Democrats with current chancellor Christian Kern as their candidate have fallen to 23% from 27% in just one week as a consequence of a scandal involving a smear campaign against Kurz. Kern has denied knowledge of two Facebook pages that discredit and insult Kurz, despite the involvement of former SPÖ election adviser Tal Silberstein in setting them up. Liste Pilz is estimated to get 6% of the votes, followed by the neoliberal NEOS and the Green Party with 5% each.
It is hard to say whether these predictions will prove accurate. Some experts still see the SPÖ as a candidate for second place. In any case the stage is set for an exciting election on Sunday in Austria.