Last year, many observers who were worried about the rise of the far-right in Europe and the United States felt relieved after the former leader of the small Green Party, Alexander Van der Bellen, won Austria’s presidential elections by a small margin. He managed to defeat the seemingly nice face of Austria’s far-right Freedom Party (FPO), Norbert Hofer, by mobilising the liberal, left, cosmopolitan and urban part of the electorate behind him. But that race was for a political position of limited influence (Austria is a parliamentary democracy), and Bellen’s victory was very narrow.
Now, Austria is getting ready for national parliamentary elections and most polls predict that the far right will once again come a close second. According to the last poll conducted before Sunday’s election, the FPO is expected to get 27 percent of the vote, behind the conservative party (OVP), which is estimated to gain around 33 percent. The incumbent social democrats (SPO) are expected to get only 24 percent of the vote.
But the relative strength of the far right in the polls, which implies that they can become a junior partner in a coalition government, is not the most worrying thing about the upcoming election – the right-wing swing of the country’s two main parties is.
A traditional political establishment composed of the SPO and the OVP ruled Austria for a very long time. This system, where the two main parties shared power for most of the time, was shaken only in the late 1980s, when the FPO and the Greens were established. The FPO eventually became a junior government partner in 2000. But more significantly, the FPO has had a deep impact on the country’s political discourse throughout the years, as it managed to carry its aggressive politics towards minorities to the mainstream.
The FPO, which was formed as a traditional protest party, lost its appeal and was nearly disintegrated after being part of the governing coalition between 2000-2005. Yet, the FPO rose from its…