Austrian election and collapse of European center left

By Sumantra Maitra
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, November 10, 2017
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Austria's Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz [File photo]

After Germany, the backlash from the right continues in Austria, where far right candidates look like gaining seats in parliament after an electoral showing that might see the youngest European head of state.

Conservative Sebastian Kurz, currently the country's foreign minister, is the biggest vote-getter, with over 30 percent, followed by the far right and the social democrats.

It was pretty predictable that Austria would move in this direction, as the advance of the far-right tide was barely contained in the last election. The latest vote also confirms that the social democrats are in free fall across much of Europe.

In an inexplicable scenario, and very much like that we saw in the recent New Zealand election, the social democrats are now seeking an alliance with the far right for survival, although whether that's viable is anyone's guess.

Again, as it was in New Zealand, the far right has emerged as the definite king maker, and it is now trying to find out which side of the political spectrum in the new parliament would most benefit it. In another strange scenario, the Greens failed to get the required percentage of votes, to have even a single MP, even though the last Austrian president was from the party.

The anti-immigration platform was evident through the election campaign and the vote. For the first time, both the center right and the far right increased their voting percentage without cutting into each other’s share.

The one single common element between the two is opposition to mass migration into Europe. Austria, positioned right in the center of Europe, was the first country to close its borders and man the barriers with soldiers in 2015.

In Czech republic, the pattern followed, as the first three parties emerged are right wing populists, right wing conservatives and far right anti-immigrant block. In what could be termed as a brutal rejection of EU meddling in Czech internal affairs, the country’s second richest man Babis, who led the party Ano, went on to score around 30 percent of votes making him the largest coalition former. The second largest platform went to the massive anti-immigrant Tomio Okamura, who is himself half Japanese, and wants to stop all Islamic migration to Europe and hold a British style Brexit referendum for Czech republic.

Austria was fiercely independent even so during the Cold War, and remained so amid the collapse of the Soviet Union. It is also heavily insular in demographics and homogenous in culture. Thus, it is naturally adverse to immigration in any large numbers from any source.

Events of the last three years have done nothing to change the situation either. As Europe suffered, the postwar welfare state collapsed under a heavy financial burden, terror attacks happened almost every week in major capital cities, and so people right across the continent have been turning towards the far right.

This brings to light an interesting conundrum for the left and social democratic parties. After the safe Dutch elections, the EU in general thought the far-right threat had evaporated. In France, Macron turned the traditional center right into a movement, with a highly-effective PR campaign, and somehow managed to stall, at least temporarily, the advance of the French far right, surely the roughest movement of its type in Europe.

However, in recent weeks, Germany, and now Austria, have not been so lucky.

The left and the social democrat have been willfully blind to this problem, and seemingly are willing to brush it under the carpet. And that will not help their cause. The historic collapse of the center left across Europe can be attributed to two simple reasons.

One, the rational fear of Europeans of the upsurge in mass migration. Europeans are naturally fearful of literally millions of younger males simply pushing their way into the homeland. It is a very normal fear, and it needs to be addressed urgently.

Two, the fundamental job of a government is to provide security for its taxpayers. The governments across Europe have miserably failed in this regard, and that needs to urgently change. It is unthinkable in any other part of the globe where there is a functioning government, that an administration so willfully neglects the security of its citizens and yet manages to survive.

It has never happened before, and it won’t happen in Europe, either. If a citizen pays tax, he or she expects the government, first and foremost, to guarantee their security and livelihood. If social democrats in Europe want to regain their role in governance, they need to be tough on law and order and security.

In these most troubling times facing the continent, the political balance of power is slowly corroding. That is a dangerous option for any governmental system and for overall equilibrium. Leaders should take urgent notice of these issues, or risk fading into oblivion for generations to come.

Sumantra Maitra is a columnist with For more information please visit:

Opinion articles reflect the views of their authors only, not necessarily those of

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