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Social Democrats set for Vienna victory, far-right make gains

Vienna's city election has been a tight battle, but the center-left Social Democrats have emerged as likely winners. However, the far-right Freedom Party appears to have capitalized on anxiety over the refugee crisis.

Early exit polls showed a clear lead for Austria's Social Democrats (SPÖ) in Vienna's municipal elections. A survey published by the SORA Institute for Social Research and Consulting said the SPÖ had gained 39.5 percent of the vote.

The

right-wing Freedom Party (FPÖ)

was expected to form the main opposition with 30.5 percent. Austrian public broadcaster ÖRF said that the results were to close to call.

Austria's center-right conservative party ÖVP was forecast to only gain 8 to 10 percent of the vote.

The polling indicated that a three-way coalition was likely to be necessary for a city government to be formed, no matter the outcome. The winner would be expected to attempt to form a coalition, but all the main parties except the ÖVP ruled out an alliance with the FPÖ.

Neck and neck buildup to election day

The Associated Press news agency had predicted

victory for the FPÖ

, saying that the populist Austrian party, whose critics say exploits fears about mass migration, was poised Sunday to gain control of Vienna.

But other news organizations expected a win for the SPÖ. Even with an SPÖ victory, the rival FPÖ would still record its best-ever result in the Austrian capital, coming in second place.

Initial surveys had put support for the SPÖ, which has governed the city since the end of World War Two, at 34.5 - 37.5 percent, while the FPÖ was predicted to gain 33 - 36 percent.

Both leaders appear confident

A strong showing for the Freedom Party would position party leader Heinz-Christian Strache to bid for Austria's chancellorship in federal elections to be held within three years.

The FPÖ's Heinz-Christian Strache has remained confident throughout the campaign

The head of Austria's far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ) Heinz-Christian Strache remained confident throughout the election campaign

Strache expressed hope for his party's "best showing in history," saying he hoped to at least match the Socialist showing.

Alluding to the

FPÖ's Eurosceptic, anti-immigrant image

among its critics, incumbent mayor Michael Häupl, however, said that every vote for the party "is not good for the international reputation of this city."

The FPÖ's previous strongest showing in Vienna was 28 percent in 1996 under its charismatic leader of recent times, the late Jörg Haider.

The final results are expected to be announced later.

ss/rc (Reuters, AP, dpa)

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