Gains for right predicted in Austrian elections

 

Austrians voted in an early parliamentary election today with the far right forecast to make big gains and the two mainstream parties virtually neck-and-neck.

Opinion polls point to a rise in the right's share to 25 percent and a slump for Social Democrats and conservatives to less than 30 percent each, which would herald long negotiations on another coalition that may prove as short-lived as the last.

Polling stations opened at 7 a.m. (0500 GMT) and the last ones close at 5 p.m. Preliminary results are due shortly afterwards.

By midday, voter turnout in Vienna, home to around a fifth of the population, was similar to the last election according to news agency APA, while sunny weather was encouraging people to go to ballot boxes across Austria. In 2006 voter turnout was just under 80 per cent in the country as a whole.

About 6.3 million people are eligible to vote in the Alpine republic, including 200,000 16- and 17-year-olds following a lowering of the voting age from 18.

Illustrating a growing disenchantment with politics, polls showed 40 per cent of voters doubted any party could address their problems and up to 30 per cent were undecided how to vote.

The combined popularity of the two main parties, which joined forces in a coalition that collapsed in July after 18 months of mutual stonewalling that blocked reforms, stood at its lowest level since World War Two.

The Social Democrats, who headed the outgoing government, had a narrow lead after new leader Werner Faymann fought a campaign highlighting an anti-inflation package, but their edge was within the margin of error, pollsters said.

Heinz-Christian Strache's far-right Freedom Party looked on target to win up to 20 per cent, almost twice its 2006 showing, with Joerg Haider's right-wing splinter group Alliance for Austria's Future rising to 5 per cent. The parties split in 2005.

Reuters