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Austrian coalition retains wafer-thin majority following general election

Austria’s outgoing coalition government appears set to return to power following the country’s general election. However, smaller parties managed to reduce the majority they can form in parliament.

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Narrow win for two biggest parties

Preliminary final results released on Friday evening showed that Chancellor Werner Faymann's Social Democrats (SPÖ) had finished first in Sunday's election, taking 27.1 percent of the vote, more than two percent less than in the 2008 election. The center-right Austrian People's party (ÖVP) took 23.8 percent, also around two percent less than five years ago.

This gives the two parties a combined 50.9 percent, enough - just barely - to control a majority in parliament. This appears to make a so-called "grand coalition" of Austria's two biggest parties the most likely outcome of negotiations that precede the formation of any new government, when, as is almost always the case, no single party has a majority on its own.

The two parties are thought to have lost support due to a series of scandals over corruption allegations and voter anger over Austria's involvement in helping find bailouts for weak eurozone countries.

After the results were announced, Chancellor Faymann (pictured above) acknowledged that there was some voter dissatisfaction with his government, but that he intended to seek a new grand coalition with the ÖVP.

"There is much to do, on the one hand to justify this result and on the other hand to build up more trust for the future," he told ORF public television.

Possible alternative to grand coalition

However, the ÖVP and the deputy chancellor said a grand coalition was not inevitable.

"This result is a wake-up call," Michael Spindelegger told ORF. "We can't simply go on as before."

Spindelegger also declined to rule out the possibility of joining a coalition with the far right Freedom Party (FPÖ), which took 21.4 percent of the vote. They would also be able to form a majority of joined by Team Stronach, a party bankrolled by Austrian-Canadian billionaire Frank Stronach, which took 5.8 percent of the vote, easily clearing the four percent required to enter parliament. However, while numerically feasible, this is not seen as a likely scenario.

Also entering parliament for the first time is the liberal, pro-European New Austria (NEOS) party, which took 4.8 percent.

pfd/kms (AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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