After almost a year of campaigning, voting, a second ballot, and a delayed re-run of the second ballot, the Austrian presidential elections finally came to an end on 4 December. With a relatively narrow lead of just 53.8 per cent, the Green Party candidate Alexander Van der Bellen was able to defeat the far-right Freedom Party’s Norbert Hofer.
This is good, but it is in no way a victory for the left. While the neoliberal economist Van der Bellen was, not unlike Hillary Clinton, supported by a broad coalition reaching from the chairman of the conservative People’s Party and several high-ranking representatives of Austrian industrial and finance capital to famous artists and intellectuals, a considerable number of grass-roots campaigns and even parts of the far-left, he was running an extraordinarily conservative and patriotic campaign shifting public discourse further to the right. The tensions between the two ruling parties — the Social Democratic Party and the People’s Party — are growing and snap elections are likely in spring 2017.
With the Freedom Party way ahead in the polls and even the Social Democrats discussing a coalition with them, we’re almost certainly heading towards a far-right-led government. The last years of economic crisis and neoliberal politics give no reason to believe in a brighter future for a large part of the population.
The presidential elections showed how fed up people are with the status quo. In the first round the two candidates of the government parties got only eleven percent each. Since the parliamentary left is part of the problem and no independent alternative for the working class being visible, the far-right is the only political camp that’s able to take advantage of the common anti-establishment sentiment. Consequently an incredible 86 per cent of the private sector blue-collar workers’ vote went to Norbert Hofer.
Another interesting detail about the election is the that Hofer is more popular among men than among women. While sixty per cent of male voters chose the far-right candidate, only forty per cent of their female counterparts did. Apparently his reactionary ideas about gender roles didn’t seem too appealing to everybody.
Hofer’s defeat may look like a success. But getting almost half of the votes in a national election is actually a great leap forward for the Freedom Party. The other corporate politicians won’t stop them on their way to power. Only a genuine movement of the working class could.