VIENNA: Austria’s presidential ballot on Sunday is expected to highlight the decline in the country’s two traditional parties, which for the first time since 1945 look unlikely to produce a winning candidate.
Although the role is mainly symbolic, the ballot is a key indicator of the parties’ standing ahead of the general election in 2018.
“Like elsewhere in Europe, we are witnessing the downfall of the traditional parties,” political expert Peter Hajek told Agence France-Presse. “They have failed to modernise over the past decade and attract new voters.”
The so-called “great coalition” between the Social Democrats (SPOe) and the conservative People’s party (OeVP) has dominated Austrian politics for the best part of the last 70 years.
But polls suggest their candidates trail far behind in Sunday’s race.
Instead, voters are set to pick one of three wild cards: Norbert Hofer of the far-right Freedom Party (FPOe); ex-Green party leader Alexander van der Bellen; or Irmgard Griss, the former president of the Supreme Court and the only woman in the contest.
In a tight race, van der Bellen is projected to get up to 26 percent, Hofer 24 percent and Griss around 21 percent.
A run-off vote will take place on May 22 if no one manages to obtain an absolute majority.
The chances are slim that it will include the SPOe’s Rudolf Hundstorfer or the OeVP’s Andreas Kohl, stuck on 15 and 11 percent, respectively.
The only person faring worse in the six-person contest is the eccentric Viennese businessman Richard Lugner who has 3 percent.
The president has usually come from one of the two main parties, or had the backing of one of them in the case of independent candidates.
But cracks have begun to show in the alliance, which has come under pressure over the migrant crisis and rising unemployment – factors that have sparked a surge in popularity for the FPOe.
The party, led by Heinz-Christian Strache consistently scores more than 30 percent in voter surveys and could come first in the 2018 ballot.
“In the past, the presidential election focused on personalities but this year political issues have also come into play. Hundstorfer and Kohl will have to pay for their parties’ failings,” said Karin Cvrtila of the OGM polling institute.
Heads could roll in the current government if neither candidate makes it into the run-off, she added.