2019 Austrian parliamentary election

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All 183 seats in the National Council
92 seats needed for a majority
Opinion polls
  First party Second party Third party
 
Leader Sebastian Kurz Pamela Rendi-Wagner Norbert Hofer
Party ÖVP SPÖ FPÖ
Leader since 15 May 2017 25 September 2018 19 May 2019
Last election 62 seats, 31.5% 52 seats, 26.9% 51 seats, 26.0%
Seats won 71 40 31
Seat change Increase 9 Decrease 12 Decrease 20
Popular vote 1,789,417 1,011,868 772,666
Percentage 37.5% 21.2% 16.2%
Swing Increase 6.0% Decrease 5.7% Decrease 9.8%

  Fourth party Fifth party
 
Leader Werner Kogler Beate Meinl-Reisinger
Party Greens NEOS
Leader since 17 October 2017 23 June 2018
Last election 0 seats, 3.8% 10 seats, 5.3%
Seats won 26 15
Seat change Increase 26 Increase 5
Popular vote 664,055 387,124
Percentage 13.9% 8.1%
Swing Increase 10.1% Increase 2.8%

Chancellor before election

Brigitte Bierlein
Independent

Elected Chancellor

TBD

Legislative elections were held in Austria on 29 September 2019, to elect the 27th National Council, the lower house of Austria's bicameral parliament. The snap elections were called in the wake of the collapse of the ruling ÖVPFPÖ coalition and the announcement of Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache's resignation on 18 May 2019, following the Ibiza affair.

Background

The 2017 legislative election was called four years into a grand coalition between the Social Democratic Party of Austria (SPÖ) and Austrian People's Party (ÖVP), prompted by the demand of newly elected ÖVP leader Sebastian Kurz for a snap election.[1] Although the SPÖ won 52 seats, as it did in the 2013 election, the ÖVP and FPÖ both made large gains, increasing their strength by 15 seats to 62 and by 11 to 51, respectively, making the former the largest party at the federal level. The Peter Pilz List entered the National Council with 8 seats, while the NEOS gained one seat and the Greens lost all of their 24 seats because they failed to clear the 4% threshold of the vote, which is required to qualify for the proportional allocation of seats.[2]

Following the election, President Alexander Van der Bellen asked Kurz to form the next government, and the ÖVP initiated exploratory talks with the other parties in the National Council.[3] The ÖVP officially started coalition negotiations with the FPÖ on 25 October, agreeing on a five-point roadmap.[4] Negotiations drew towards a close in late November,[5] and the parties announced a coalition agreement on 15 December,[6] with the coalition government led by Kurz sworn in on 18 December.[7]

On 4 November 2017, Peter Pilz announced that he would not take his seat, following accusations of sexual harassment.[8] On 11 June 2018, Pilz returned to the National Council and was sworn in after charges of sexual harassment were dropped by the state prosecution. His return was made possible by the resignation of another member of the National Council, Peter Kolba, who stepped down after significant disputes within the List Pilz. The swearing-in ceremony of Pilz was met with heavy resistance. Almost all female representatives walked out of the parliament room as he was about to take the oath.[9]

On 7 May 2018, Matthias Strolz announced that he would step down as leader of NEOS and hand over the party leadership in June, citing personal reasons and a successful period for the party since it was founded in 2012, with steady electoral gains during his term.[10] On 23 June 2018, party delegates elected Beate Meinl-Reisinger as their new leader in a meeting that took place in Vienna.[11]

On 20 August 2018, Maria Stern was elected new party leader of the List Pilz during a party meeting in Vienna. Participants also agreed to rename the list, for which a PR agency was hired.[12] On 19 November 2018, the List Pilz presented their new name: "JETZT" (or "NOW", in English).[13]

On 18 September 2018, opposition leader Christian Kern announced that he would resign as leader of the Austrian Social Democrats.[14] Four days later, former Minister of Health Pamela Rendi-Wagner was designated as the new chairwoman of the Social Democratic Party. She was officially confirmed as party leader through a delegate vote at a party convention held on 24 November 2018. Rendi-Wagner is the first female leader of the SPÖ.[15]

Ibiza affair and snap election announcement

See also: Ibiza affair

On 17 May 2019, a secretly recorded video was published of a July 2017 meeting in Ibiza, Spain, which appeared to show the then opposition politicians Heinz-Christian Strache and Johann Gudenus discussing their party's underhanded practices and intentions.[16][17][18] In the video, both politicians appeared receptive to proposals by a woman posing as the niece of a Russian oligarch, discussing providing the FPÖ positive news coverage in return for government contracts. Strache and Gudenus also hinted at corrupt political practices involving other wealthy donors to the FPÖ in Europe and elsewhere.

On 18 May, Strache announced that he would resign as FPÖ leader and vice chancellor, with Norbert Hofer replacing him as FPÖ leader.

On 19 May, Kurz tore up the coalition agreement and announced his intention to seek a snap election in September[19] with President Alexander Van der Bellen also signalling an election early that month.[20] Just eight days later, the Kurz government was toppled in the first successful no- confidence vote in modern Austrian history.[21]

On 3 June, Brigitte Bierlein and her independent technocratic interim government was sworn into office by President Alexander Van der Bellen. Her government consists of 12 members, instead of 16 during the Kurz government.

On 12 June, the election date was eventually set for 29 September with the votes of SPÖ and FPÖ, while the ÖVP was opposed, having favoured an early September poll date instead.[22] The prevailing view was that the snap election should not be held during the summer holiday season, and that it should not coincide with state elections in Vorarlberg, to be held on 13 October 2019.[23]

Electoral system

Austrian Parliament building (Vienna)
Austrian Parliament building (Vienna)

The 183 members of the National Council are elected by open list proportional representation at the level of one federal constituency consisting of all of Austria, 9 state constituencies, and 39 regional constituencies. Seats in the National Council are apportioned to the regional constituencies based on the results of the most recent census. Following elections, seats are allocated to the candidates of successful parties and lists in a three-stage process: from regional constituencies to state constituencies to the federal constituency.

For parties to receive any representation in the National Council, they must either win at least one seat in a constituency directly, or clear a 4 percent national electoral threshold.[24] Seats are distributed according to the Hare method in the first two stages, at the level of regional and state constituencies,[25] with any remaining seats allocated using the D'Hondt method at the federal level, to ensure overall proportionality between a party's national vote share and its share of parliamentary seats.[26] Deviations from near-perfect proportionality can nevertheless occur when a smaller party fails to clear the 4% hurdle and receives no seats as result, a fate the Green Party suffered in 2017. The rationale for the threshold is to discourage parties from splintering, and thereby prevent parliament from fragmenting into numerous small parties, which would complicate coalition formation in the first instance, and undermine their stability once they are formed.

In addition to voting for a national party or list, voters may, but are not required to, cast three preferential votes for specific candidates.[27] These additional votes do not affect the proportional allocation based on the vote for the party or list, but can change the rank order of candidates on a party's lists at the federal, state, and regional level. The threshold to increase the position of a candidate on a federal party list is 7 percent, compared to 10 percent at the state level, and 14 percent at the regional level. The names of candidates on regional party lists are printed on the ballot and can be marked with an "x" to indicate the voter's preference. Preference votes for candidates on party lists at the state and federal level, however, must be written in by the voter, either by writing the name or the rank number of the candidate in a blank spot provided for that purpose.[28] Austria still uses paper ballots, rather than electronic voting machines. Because the names of candidates on the regional lists are printed on the ballot, and because more parties and lists compete today than was the case in earlier decades of the Second Republic, today's ballots are much larger in size than was the case before the introduction of preferential voting.[29] Voting by placing an "x" in the circle provided next to party name on the top of the ballot, or candidate name at regional list of a party at the bottom, is the most common method, but other types of markings are also allowed. A voter may not cross party-lines to cast a preference vote for a candidate of another party. Such preference votes are invalid.

Date

Per Article 26 and 27 of the Federal Constitutional Law, the National Council must be convened by the President no later than 30 days after the most recent election. The standard duration of the legislative period of the National Council is five years, by the end of which it must be renewed through an election on a Sunday or a public holiday.[30][31] Because the inaugural meeting of the 26th National Council took place on 9 November 2017, as determined by President Alexander Van der Bellen, the latest date on which the next legislative election could have been held would be 6 November 2022.[32]

Contesting parties

The table below lists parties represented in the 26th National Council.

Name Ideology Leader 2017 result
Votes (%) Seats
ÖVP Austrian People's Party
Österreichische Volkspartei
Christian democracy Sebastian Kurz 31.5%
62 / 183
SPÖ Social Democratic Party of Austria
Sozialdemokratische Partei Österreichs
Social democracy Pamela Rendi-Wagner 26.9%
52 / 183
FPÖ Freedom Party of Austria
Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs
Right-wing populism
Euroscepticism
Norbert Hofer 26.0%
51 / 183
NEOS NEOS – The New Austria and Liberal Forum
NEOS – Das Neue Österreich und Liberales Forum
Liberalism
Pro-Europeanism
Beate Meinl-Reisinger 5.3%
10 / 183
JETZT JETZT
JETZT – Liste Pilz
Left-wing populism
Green politics
Maria Stern
(lead candidate: Peter Pilz)
4.4%
8 / 183

Ballot access requirements

In order to contest the election nationwide, a party (or list) must have the support of three members of parliament or collect 2,600 valid signatures from eligible voters ahead of the elections.

Parties may contest the election in individual states only, if they so chose. To do so, they must submit a minimum number of voter signatures that varies by state as follows:

For the 2019 elections, parties had less than a month (9 July and 2 August) to collect signatures. The state and federal election commissions then validated the signatures and announced the list of parties that qualified.

Parties that collected enough signatures

In addition to the parties already represented in the National Council, eight parties collected enough signatures to be placed on the ballot. Three of these were cleared to be on the ballot in all states, five of them only in some.[33]

On the ballot in all 9 states

On the ballot in some states only

Failed to achieve ballot access

Another eight parties or lists sought ballot access, but failed to collect enough signatures to meet the 2 August 2019 deadline.

Opinion polls

Main article: Opinion polling for the 2019 Austrian legislative election

Results

Below are the final results of the election, certified on 16 October.

Party Votes % Seats +/–
Austrian People's Party 1,789,417 37.5
71 / 183
+9
Social Democratic Party of Austria 1,011,868 21.2
40 / 183
–12
Freedom Party of Austria 772,666 16.2
31 / 183
–20
The Greens – The Green Alternative 664,055 13.9
26 / 183
+26
NEOS – The New Austria and Liberal Forum 387,124 8.1
15 / 183
+5
JETZT 89,169 1.9 0 –8
Communist Party of Austria Plus 32,736 0.7 0 0
Der Wandel 22,168 0.5 0 New
Austrian Beer Party 4,946 0.1 0 New
Every Vote Counts! 1,767 0.0 0 0
BZÖ Carinthia – Alliance of Patriots 760 0.0 0 New
Socialist Left Party 310 0.0 0 0
Christian Party of Austria 260 0.0 0 0
Invalid/blank votes 58,223
Total 4,835,469 100 183 0
Registered voters/turnout 6,396,812 75.6
Source: Austrian Interior Ministry

Results by state

State results in % ÖVP SPÖ FPÖ Greens NEOS JETZT KPÖ+ Wandel Others Turnout
 Burgenland 38.3 29.4 17.3 8.1 4.9 1.3 0.4 0.3 0.1 81.4
 Carinthia 34.9 26.2 19.8 9.5 6.8 1.7 0.5 0.4 0.2 72.4
 Lower Austria 42.3 19.9 16.4 11.0 7.7 1.7 0.5 0.5 0.0 80.6
 Upper Austria 36.8 22.1 17.5 13.7 7.3 1.5 0.6 0.5 0.0 77.7
 Salzburg 46.4 16.4 13.7 12.6 8.4 1.4 0.6 0.5 0.0 76.4
 Styria 38.9 19.2 18.5 13.0 7.1 1.7 1.3 0.4 0.0 74.8
 Tyrol 45.8 13.0 14.7 14.7 8.9 1.7 0.6 0.4 0.2 71.8
 Vorarlberg 36.6 13.1 14.7 18.1 13.6 2.1 0.5 0.8 0.4 67.7
 Vienna 24.6 27.1 12.8 20.7 9.9 3.0 0.8 0.5 0.6 72.0
 Austria 37.5 21.2 16.2 13.9 8.1 1.9 0.7 0.5 0.1 75.6
Source: Austrian Interior Ministry

Government formation

Although the ÖVP under Sebastian Kurz won a large plurality, it does not command a majority of seats and will thus need a junior partner. Several coalition options are mathematically possible based on the distribution of parliamentary seats among the other parties, which reflects their respective shares of the vote.[34] The Green Party achieved their best electoral results ever, in part at the expense of the SPÖ, and is viewed as a potentially viable coalition partner, although such a conservative-green alliance would be unprecedented at the national level in Austria and would require compromise on policy positions by both sides.[35]

Exploratory coalition talks

President Van der Bellen met with Kurz on Monday, 7 October 2019 to charge him with the task of forming a new government.[36] Kurz had committed himself to hold talks with all parties.[37] The Green Party leadership had already voted in favor of exploratory talks, and had avoided setting preconditions, though as of 29 September, a coalition with the ÖVP was backed by only 1/3 of Green party members.[38] The Green Party leader, Werner Kogler, is a veteran of coalition talks with the ÖVP that failed on an earlier occasion after the 2002 election. However, 4 in 10 ÖVP voters prefer FPÖ, whereas only 1 in 5 could imagine cooperation with the Green Party. The party leaders of SPÖ, FPÖ and NEOS also agreed to take part in the exploratory talks, which are the first step to form a new government.[39]

After the conclusion of the first round of talks, the FPÖ told Kurz that they would not continue the exploratory talks, but would consider re-entering negotiations should talks with other parties fail. Another round of exploratory talks with SPÖ, the Greens, and NEOS was then scheduled for Thursday, 17 October and Friday, 18 October.[40]

State elections in Vorarlberg

Meanwhile, regional elections to the state legislature were held in Vorarlberg, Austria's westernmost constituent Bundesland (state) on 13 October 2019. The outcome of the election to this state legislature was closely watched because it came on the heels of the National Council elections, and because the state had already established a precedent for a workable conservative-green coalition government at the sub-national level in the previous election cycle. Based on the final election results, all parties represented in the Vorarlberg state legislature increased their share of the vote - except for the scandal-plagued FPÖ, which sustained heavy losses, just as it did in the national parliamentary elections two weeks earlier. With 18.9% of the vote, the Greens emerged as the second-largest party after the ÖVP, which garnered 43.5%.[41] Based on the final election results, four parties represented in the 36-seat state legislature prior to the election gained one additional seat each, all at the expense of the FPÖ, which lost four. As is the case at the federal level, coalition talks were held to determine the composition of the new government. A renewal of the ÖVP-Green coalition was the most likely outcome after Governor Markus Wallner (ÖVP) invited the Greens once again to in-depth talks following a round of talks with other party leaders.[42] The coalition negotiations between ÖVP and Greens were finalized on 5 November 2019, and the new Vorarlberg government was sworn in on 6 November.[43]

Kurz set a deadline for 8 November for exploratory talks with the Greens to end. Previously, SPÖ and NEOS broke off talks with Kurz and told him they are only available for direct coalition talks. Kurz then agreed to schedule four more rounds of in-depth exploratory talks with the Green Party and told the media that he plans a decision about formal coalition talks for the days after 8 November.[44][45]

After the final round of talks between ÖVP and Greens on 8 November, the Greens announced a party meeting for Sunday, 10 November and scheduled a subsequent vote on the approval of coalition talks with the ÖVP. Kurz announced that he would talk with key ÖVP party members, such as state governors, over the weekend and await a decision by the Greens before announcing his own decision.[46] According to a new poll by broadcaster ATV, published on 8 November, public support for a ÖVP-Green coalition has increased to 55%, with 36% being opposed. Among Green Party voters only, support has risen to 96%, while among ÖVP voters only, 61% support such a coalition, with 33% opposed. Support is also high among voters from the liberal NEOS (79%) and the SPÖ (68%), with opposition only coming from the FPÖ (71%).[47]

Formal coalition negotiations at the federal level

After conferring with numerous OVP leaders around the country by phone over the weekend, Kurz announced his party's unity in favor of formal coalition negotiations with the Greens, rather than with the Social Democrats.[48] He cited government stability as a key consideration for the choice, but cautioned that the outcome was still uncertain. Although unprecedented in Austria at the federal level, the idea of a coalition between the Christian-Democrats with the Greens is disproportionately favored by voters under 30 in both parties.[49] Austria's younger generation has greater political clout than elsewhere because the voting age was lowered to 16, thus increasing their demographic share of the electorate. Born in 1986, Sebastian Kurz himself was one of the youngest heads of government on a global level when he first became Federal Chancellor in 2017.

A Kurz-Kogler meeting is scheduled for Tuesday morning, 12 November 2019. Green leaders had unanimously approved opening coalition negotiations at a party meeting on Sunday. Kogler was quoted as saying that "our hand is extended to the ÖVP" but acknowledged that this undertaking had its risks. Major topics on which the two ideologically disparate parties will have to strive to reach common ground are migration (refugees/immigration/integration), education, the economy, and transparency.

President Van der Bellen and NEOS welcomed the breakthrough announced by Kurz Monday morning, while the FPÖ criticized him for "delivering Austria to the Greens". The SPÖ called for government formation to finish quickly.[50] Kurz had not offered any particular reason why a coalition with the SPÖ had been rejected.

The prospect of Austria being governed by a coalition of conservatives and greens is a novel development on the western European political landscape at a national level, and is being watched with anticipation from the outside.[51]

On 15 November, ÖVP and Greens decided to create a negotiation team of more than 100 people combined, who will negotiate in 6 major groups and 36 sub-groups, discussing different topics. Group leaders from the two parties have been named to oversee the comprehensive talks, which started on Monday, 18 November, involving all sub-groups.[needs update][52]

On 17 November, Hofer indicated he would say yes to a coalition agreement with Kurz.[53]

State Elections in Styria mirror national trend

On Sunday, 24 November 2019, legislative elections were held in Styria, Austria's fourth-largest state by population.[54] The ÖVP won a resounding victory at the expense of both the Social Democrats and the FPÖ, which had done very well in the Styrian election of 2015, and managed to re-established itself as the historically dominant political force in the state. The Greens exceeded 10% of the vote statewide for the first time in history. With 6% the Communists did better than the NEOS who received 5%, but the NEOS had ground to celebrate nonetheless because they won enough votes to enter the Landtag for the first time, and with two seats.[55]

Based on preliminary data reported as of 1700 on polling day, the breakdown by party is as follows: ÖVP 36,61% - SPÖ 22,89% - FPÖ 17,94% - GRÜNE 11,43% - KPÖ 6,02% - NEOS 5,10%.[56] The Greens did exceptionally well in Graz, Styria's capital, which is also the stronghold of the Communist Party, a unique facet in the Styrian politics.

Styria uses a slightly different version of PR to convert vote shares into seats than is used for elections to the national parliament. There is no 4% threshold. Instead, a party must win at least one seat (Grundmandat) by meeting a certain numerical requirement (Wahlzahl). Rather than being fixed, the number of votes necessary to meet the requirement varies because it is computed based on all valid ballots cast in a district and the number of mandates allocated to that district. For the purpose of Landtag elections, Styria is divided into four districts (Wahlkreise) of unequal size, to which mandates (corresponding to seats in the Landtag) are apportioned based on the most recent census.[57] The number of mandates per district is known going into the election, but the Wahlzahl is not known because it is affected by turnout, which this time was low by historical standards. As in national elections, the voting age is 16.[58] Austria is an international outlier in giving youth in 16-18 age range the right to vote, and thus a stake in the political game and an ability to help shape their country's future. Voting used to be compulsory in several states, including, Styria, but that is no longer the case.

The provisional distribution of seats in the 48-seat Landtag is as follows: ÖVP 18 seats (+4), SPÖ 12 (-3), FPÖ 8 (-6), GRÜNE 6 (+3), KPÖ 2 (no change), NEOS 2 (+2).[59] After all ballots were counted (including postal votes and those cast by voters outside their precincts using a voter card available for that purpose) one mandate that was projected for the Communists shifted to the SPÖ, whose leader had already resigned, following his party's sharp drop in voter support.[60] The Communists and the Neos will accordingly have two seats each. Each won one basic mandate in the regional district that includes Graz, the capital, and a second one by aggregating their statewide votes. The Greens won five basic mandates outright, three of them in the Graz district, and received one more in the second stage of the seat-allocation process, bringing their total of 6, thus doubling their strength in the Landtag. The turnout in this election was 64.5%, the lowest in history. As a result of the large shifts in voter support among the parties, the constellation of power in Styria now mirrors that at the federal level: Multiple variants of possible coalitions led by the ÖVP as the leading party are possible, which include the option of seeking out the Greens as a junior coalition partner in a three-party coalition.[61][62]

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