A majority of members of the Austrian Social Democratic Party (SPÖ) have agreed through a secret vote to be open to a possible coalition with the anti-mass migration Freedom Party (FPÖ), signalling a huge change in policy.Although the official results are not expected to be released by SPÖ leader and Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern until Wednesday, Austria’s largest newspaper Kronen Zeitung claims SPÖ members voted 72 per cent in favour of a possible populist coalition in a secret ballot.
If the result holds, it would mark a significant policy shift for the socialists who have refused to work with the FPÖ since 1986 when former socialist Chancellor Franz Vranitzky excluded working with the party due to their election of controversial politician Jörg Haider as party leader.
Before the election of Haider, both parties worked together in a coalition from 1983 to 1987.
Since 2005, the FPÖ have been led by Heinz-Christian Strache who has transformed the FPÖ into a major force in Austrian politics. The transformation of the party led many in the SPÖ to call for the party to abandon its former stance. According to some reports, there have been several discreet meetings between Strache and Chancellor Kern over the past year.
The announcement of cooperation with the FPÖ is likely to fracture the Social Democrats as several high profile members like Mayor of Vienna Michael Häupl, who defeated Strache in the Vienna mayoral election in 2015, have been greatly opposed to changing the party’s stance.
Current polling shows the FPÖ in second place behind the conservative Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP). The ÖVP received a polling boost when popular Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz became the party’s new leader after the unexpected resignation of Reinhold Mitterlehner.
As a result of the resignation of the former vice-chancellor, the coalition government has collapsed – though both sides have agreed to cooperate until a new election which will be held on October 15.
The ÖVP have not ruled out a possible coalition government with the FPÖ as the two parties agree on several policies including the recent banning of the Islamic full-face veil, and the need to crack down on radical Islamism.
With the socialists being open to a coalition with the FPÖ, it will likely mean that both of the current coalition partners will fight to form a government with them. For the FPÖ, it would be the first time in 17 years since they were part of a ruling coalition.