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Populist Party Set to Make Big Snap Election Gains as Austria Coalition Looks Uncertain

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Increasing tensions between the left and right wing parties that make up Austria’s grand coalition could potentially open a door to early power for the soaring anti-mass migration Freedom Party (FPÖ) as a snap election could bring a vote 18 months early.

Austrian papers and newsgroups including the best-selling daily Kronen Zeitung, as well as Osterreich24 and UnserTirrol24, report Tuesday that pressure over policy disputes is growing between the left wing Social Democrat party and the centre right Austrian People’s Party, who entered into a grand coalition together in 2013 after an inconclusive hung election.

Krone reports that among the disagreements a possible date for a snap election ahead of the otherwise expected date of October 2018 has been floated for the first time, and it could be as soon as May 21, 2017.

The lead parties are now coming to blows over a diverse range of policies including their ability to deliver the government’s key reform package, a promise to raise no new taxes, and counter-terror security measures. OE24 reports despite none having yet been called, there is already a feeling of a general election campaign in the air as the major parties get on the campaign trail.

The left wing party leader and Austria’s present chancellor Christian Kern is on tour through Austria holding meetings to publicise his policies, while their conservative partners release new policies. Meanwhile, a junior conservative minister went before members of parliament today and accused her socialist coalition partners of putting political positioning before running the country.

While the mainstream parties bicker over their slight differences in the coalition, Austria’s populist-right FPÖ is poised to make significant gains, if present polling were to carry through to the ballot box. Coming a close third in the last general election, the party, led by Heinz-Christian Strache (above right), has continued to climb in the polls since and sits 15 points clear of his centre-right rivals, a comfortable position the party has enjoyed for months.

While the left wing Social Democrats are slowly gaining on the FPÖ, bar a sudden and decisive swing on election day were a snap-vote to take place this year, Austria could return a populist government. Krone reports it is this possibility that concerns the members of the governing coalition beyond all others.

The strong position in the polls, already higher than any other party managed to achieve in the last election, comes on the back of growing anti-open borders sentiment and the hairline-finish for the recent Austrian presidential elections. Though vying for a largely ceremonial role, the FPÖ made it to the final round of voting against a Green-backed candidate for the head of state.

While the Green candidate enjoyed broad support from members of almost all other political parties in a tactical move to keep the FPÖ’s Norbert Hofer (above left) out of the presidential palace, they enjoy just a third of the support of the FPÖ in general election polling.

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