The Austrian National Council Elections 2019

by Barbara Waldner
Many surprises, but Sebastian Kurz prevails

Many surprises, but Sebastian Kurz prevails

2019 has been an eventful year for Austrian politics. After the Ibiza Affairs and the end of the coalition between the Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) and the populist Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ), for the first time in Austrian history the federal government under Sebastian Kurz (ÖVP) was dissolved following a vote of no confidence. The interim government was led by Brigitte Bierlein, with her appointment constituting the first time a woman had been appointed Chancellor in Austrian history. Now, on 29 September, the Austrian people have elected a new National Council.

(Please note that the postal ballot results will be added to the preliminary results between 30 September and 3 October. Thus, final numbers can vary; however, the postal ballots should not sway the election. Official election results will be released on 3 October).

As expected by polls and experts, Sebastian Kurz and his party ÖVP were the clear winners of the election. With 38% of votes (a plus of 7% compared to the last election), Sebastian Kurz will be chancellor again and will be able to pick his coalition partners freely.

The rest of the results, however, were surprising. The Social Democratic Party (SPÖ) under the lead of Pamela Rendi-Wagner managed to secure the second place with 21.5%. The expected neck-and-neck race with the FPÖ fell through, with the FPÖ only gaining 17.3% of votes – a loss of nearly 9% compared to the last elections. It appears that, in the end, the FPÖ did not overcome the Ibiza Affair as well as anticipated. The SPÖ also left these elections disappointed: While it was their goal to secure the second place after failing to do so in the past election, they scored their worst National Election result in SPÖ party history. Another surprise was the “Green Wave” in Europe not coming to a halt in Austria. With a 12.4% of votes, the Greens have made a comeback with an increase of 8.6%, meaning they will be able to re-enter the National Council after a forced break during the last legislature. The New Austrian Party (NEOS) have reached 7.4%; the list “JETZT” have missed the 4% hurdle to enter the National Council with a mere 2% of votes.

The new government: It takes two to tango

Due to the surprising gain by the Green party, a coalition between the ÖVP and the Greens would produce a majority. Same goes for both a coalition with the SPÖ and the FPÖ. Kurz’ wish for an electoral result in which the ÖVP would be able to choose a coalition freely between multiple options, as he expressed in multiple interviews during the electoral campaign period, has come true. Never has there been so much distance between the first and second place in a national election. Thus, all is up to Kurz.

After the devastating loss by the FPÖ, it became clear that Austria will probably not see a renewal of the old ÖVP-FPÖ coalition. Above all, the FPÖ has taken their loss as a signal by their voters to undergo a restructuring, signalling that the party will not partake in the coalition talks. However, Kurz underlined that he wanted to talk to all parties during exploratory talks, so everything remains possible.

The second option for Kurz is to form a coalition with the Green party. The evening of 29 September, Green party leader Werner Kogler demanded a radical change in the government's course with a greater focus on environmental policy and the fight against corruption and poverty. The Green party has gained new confidence with the remarkable electoral result and will use this confidence during coalition talks. As such a coalition has never existed before, however, Kurz might be hesitant to undergo this new route. Ideological differences would, of course, also be a factor worth considering for Kurz. Another possibility for the ÖVP would be a coalition with the SPÖ. While this was deemed rather unlikely in the months leading to the elections due to quarrels and, again, ideological differences, this coalition might still be the easiest option for Kurz. But that will be up to him to decide.

Timeline overview:

03 Oct 2019 – Final election result

Oct 2019 – Exploratory talks with potential coalition partners

23 Oct 2019 – 1st session of the National Council & swearing-in of the deputies

Nov/Dec 2019 – Coalition negotiations

Jan 2020 – Possible inauguration of the new government