The anti-immigration Freedom of Austria (FPÖ) party has nearly doubled its vote share in state elections in Lower Austria on Sunday, with the result serving as a litmus test for the rest of the country.
FPÖ, which is the only major party against sanctions on Russia and Covid-19 lockdowns, secured 24.2 percent of the vote, a 9-point increase. The news comes as recent polling shows FPÖ is the most popular party in the entire country.
At the same time, the election result in Austria’s largest state served as a major blow to the moderate conservatives of Austria’s People’s Party (ÖVP), which currently rules the country in a coalition with Austria’s Green party. The party has been hit with corruption investigations, a migrant crisis, and a sharp economic downturn.
‘Polling earthquake’ – Austria’s anti-immigration Freedom Party (FPÖ) is now country’s no. 1 party
Austria’s anti-immigration, anti-sanctions FPÖ party is the most popular in the entire country
Although ÖVP emerged as the leading party in the vote, it saw a drop of 10 percentage points to 39.9 percent, its worst result since 1945.
“FPÖ managed to turn this state election into a federal election,” said the Lower Austrian ÖVP leader and Prime Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner explaining the loss.
“Corruption has been voted out,” said FPÖ federal party manager Christian Hafenecker on Sunday evening. “This is the beginning.”
The political right came to end the “ÖVP system” in Lower Austria said state party leader Udo Landbauer. Landbauer hammed Chancellor Nehammer, blaming him for the record number of asylum seekers.
“These are bad times for those in government because people are dissatisfied with the situation,” said Nehammer regarding the election result.
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While Nehammer has claimed he is working to close the border, Austrians remain skeptical as immigration levels soar, which may explain the sharp swing in support towards FPÖ.
FPÖ party leader Herbert Kickl has made immigration a central element of his campaign in Austria and has created campaign posters that feature the slogan: “Fortress Austria – close borders – guarantee security.”
On the posters, Kickl wears a military green parka with the white and red coat of arms of Austria.
However, FPÖ has a major problem on its hands. Even if it prevails in a national election, President Alexander Van der Bellen, a member of the Green party, stated a few days ago that he would not approve Kickl as chancellor, which is within his power as president. If that occurs, Austrians may raise serious questions over the power of one man to thwart the will of democracy. With early elections a real possibility if FPÖ continues to win regional elections, this question may come sooner rather than later.