Far right surges to historic high in Austria vote
VIENNA (Reuters) - The far right surged to almost a third of the vote in Austria's parliamentary election on Sunday, complicating prospects for the biggest mainstream party, the Social Democrats, to forge a viable coalition government.
The right's record showing heralded political instability in the affluent Alpine republic since the two main centrist parties will be hard put to re-establish a broad coalition even if they resolve the feuds that killed off their last alliance.
"Terrible," political analyst Anton Pelinka said of prospects for stable government in the near future.
"The strength of the far-right parties will make formation of a coalition incredibly difficult if you don't bring either into government," he told Reuters. Social Democrats have ruled out an alliance with the right over its anti-foreigner stances.
Preliminary official results showed the centre-left Social Democrats at 30 percent and the conservative Peoples Party at 26 percent, down from 35 and 34 percent respectively in 2006.
It was the worst showing for both since World War Two.
But by retaining their status as the largest single party, the Social Democrats under Werner Faymann are expected to be asked by Austria's president to form the next government.
Heinz-Christian Strache's far right Freedom Party scored 18 percent, compared with 11 percent two years ago, while Joerg Haider's right-wing populist Alliance for Austria's Future was on 11 percent, almost tripling its vote haul in 2006.
The two parties were once one, before an acrimonious split in 2005. A major question now is whether the two might cooperate to bolster the right's case for a share of power.
The ecological Greens slipped to 10 percent from 11 percent.
A throaty roar filled the air in Freedom's election tent in Vienna when the results flashed on a screen, with the crowd -- mainly young and middle-aged men drinking beer -- punching the air and shouting "bravo".
'PUNISHED AND REJECTED'
"The Social Democrats and Peoples Party have been punished and rejected. And the Social Democrats will have to make clear why they are not at least ready to go into talks about other coalitions," said Strache, a former dental technician.
Asked by state television how he would proceed, Faymann said: "I stand by our 'no' to a coalition with Freedom or the Alliance. We want a stable government with a broad base..., not a squabbling government, which is what voters rejected."
The results did not include absentee and postal ballots, representing around 10 percent of voters. Final figures are due on October 6 but party rankings are unlikely to change.
Freedom and the Alliance lured voters from both centrist parties by tapping into frustration over government gridlock and proposing anti-inflation subsidies for lower-income Austrians struggling with the sharpest rise in prices for 15 years.
The two major parties' coalition collapsed in July after 18 months of deadlock that stymied promised economic reforms.
"It's going to be increasingly difficult to govern without the right but they are not a coherent bloc, they're as much at daggers with each other as with other parties," said Peter Pulzer, an expert on Austria at Oxford University.
"It'll be another grand coalition because (the two big parties) know they're in a last-chance saloon, they simply have to rescue the system because the worse they do, the better the extreme parties do," he told Reuters.
Richard Luther, professor at Keele University in Britain, agreed but said a centrist coalition would be "relatively weak in terms of its legitimacy".
Pelinka said the conservatives might go tactically into opposition and wait for the Social Democrats to fail in creating another coalition. "But where would they begin?" he said.
Social Democrats feared any wooing of Freedom, best known for its anti-immigrant and anti-Islam campaigning, would shatter the party. A hook-up with the Greens would be more palatable, but not command a majority in parliament.
(additional reporting by Boris Groendahl and Sylvia Westall)
(Editing by Giles Elgood)
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