Austria: No change at the top?

Following the breakdown of the coalition between the conservative People’s Party and Haider’s far right Freedom Party last September, Austria held new elections in November that resulted in gains for the conservatives and a disaster for the Freedom Party whose votes went down to ten percent. Chancellor Schüssel’s People’s Party is now negotiating with all of the three remaining parties (Social Democrats, the Greens and the Freedom Party) to form a new government. Schüssel made it clear that the People’s Party’s government policy will be based on severe cuts in health and pensions as well as further privatisation, no matter which coalition partner they choose.

Irrespective of which parties will be in the next government, it will be a government of neo-liberal attacks on the population and increased instability. The developing economic crisis in Germany as well as the question of the war will have a big effect on the development of any new government. Schüssel finds it increasingly hard to settle for a coalition. The negotiations have been going on for 9 weeks now and are not even beyond the first round. The favourite option of the ruling class is still the grand coalition with the Social Democrats – the Social Democrats and Conservatives together hold two third of the seats in parliament and would guarantee "stability". At the same time opposition from the trade unions has made this option more and more unlikely, though the Social Democratic leadership has only expressed halfhearted opposition to Schüssel’s neo-liberal course.

The more right wing part of the People’s Party now seems to have gone back to favouring a renewing of the coalition with the Freedom Party. The main obstacles for this option are still the Freedom’s Party opposition on the question of EU-enlargement, which is vital for the Austrian ruling class, and the Freedom’s Party’s general "instability" due to its contradictory character.

At the moment even a coalition between the Greens and the People’s Party is possible. The Greens have undergone a sharp shift to the right, signalling consensus with the neo-liberal course on issues like tuition fees as well as privatisation and increasing military spending. Van der Bellen of the Green Party stated at the beginning of February that they will raise no conditions for the negotiations in order not to undermine the possibilities for coalition with the People’s Party.

A lot of young people who have voted for the Greens last November in order to prevent a rightwing coalition as well as even their own ranks now seem to be disillusioned with the Greens, as the differences between the bourgeois parties are lessening.

There is the growing longing for a real left alternative. The recent success of the Communist Party in the local elections in Graz – they got 21% of the vote –shows what is possible. Quite unlike their party’s policies in other cities the CP in Graz has been involved in campaigns on day-to-day issues, like housing, affecting working class people.

The openness to socialist ideas is not confined to Graz. Last year, the Socialist Left Party, Austrian CWI section, stood in the general elections in Vienna and gained 3,906 votes, because it was seen as a real left alternative, while the CP vote declined.

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February 2003