The Austrian general election on Sunday showed a sharp move to the right. It was a further warning of the danger of the far right exploiting the bitterness in society.
Sebastian Kurz of the right wing conservative Austrian People’s Party (OVP) is set to become chancellor, the head of government.
The OVP won about 31.5 percent of the vote. It reversed its decline by choosing a young new leader—and stealing the clothes of the fascist Freedom Party (FPO).
The FPO’s founders included former Nazis, and its first leader was a former Nazi minister and SS officer.
It almost beat the Labour-type Social Democratic Party (SPO) into third place with 26 percent of the vote—its best score since 1999.
But its success in setting the agenda went far beyond its vote tally. FPO leader Heinz-Christian Strache gloated that “60 percent has voted for an FPO agenda”.
Kurz rose to prominence partly through taking a hard line against refugees during the 2015 crisis.
During the election campaign he gave legitimacy to the FPO by accepting huge chunks of its programme.
The OVP manifesto centred on targeting “political Islam”, cutting benefits for migrants and slashing taxes mainly for the rich.
Kurz has called for a ban on Muslim nurseries and argued that migrants rescued in the Mediterranean should be sent back to Africa. And as foreign minister he was key in pushing through a “burqa ban”.
He is expected to form a coalition with the FPO after the previous coalition with the SPO disillusioned voters. The last time this happened, after the 1999 elections, it provoked mass protests.
Anti-racists took to the streets in Sunday night demanding that the FPO should not be allowed into government.
David Albrich, a leading member of revolutionary socialist organisation Linkswende Jetzt, said, “The problem in Austria is not ‘political Islam’. The problem is that racism has penetrated deeply into all established parties.”
Christian Kern, the SPO leader, said Austria had seen a “massive slide to the right”. But he took no responsibility for what had happened.
The SPO recently dropped a ban on forming a future coalition with the fascists. And it has not been able to challenge the right because it has delivered nothing in office to its working class supporters.
The other big party of the centre left, the Greens, lost all 24 of its seats after damaging splits.
The Austrian election follows new successes for the fascist Front National in France and the breakthrough of the far right AfD in Germany. It is another warning anti-racists can’t afford to ignore.
There will need to be more protests against racism and austerity to beat back the right.