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Innsbruck election turnout shocks strategists

Political analysts are concerned about the deteriorating image of politics due to the poor turnout at a city hall election at the weekend.

Only 52.3 per cent of Innsbruck residents eligible to vote participated in Sunday’s city hall ballot in which the People’s Party (ÖVP) came first with 21.9 per cent, followed by the conservative list Für Innsbruck (FI, For Innsbruck). Political scientist Fritz Plasser said yesterday (Mon) people were showing how displeased they were with politics.

Plasser made aware of "generalised" developments of such kind while political strategist Thomas Hofer said the low participation was a reaction to political developments in general, not only on regional level. Hofer called the decrease from 57.8 to 52.3 per cent an "alarm signal" for decision-makers.

Detailed figures show that especially young voters stayed away from the polling booths in the provincial capital of Tyrol. The Green Party, which has solid support among young Austrians, managed to increase its share nevertheless. The left-wing faction bagged 19.1 per cent on Sunday, up by 0.6 per cent compared to the Innsbruck city hall vote of 2006. The Social Democrats (SPÖ) suffered another election debacle. The party, which claimed 29.3 per cent in the general election of 2008, garnered only 14.5 per cent in Innsbruck on Sunday. The SPÖ won 19.7 per cent in the Innsbruck city parliament election of 2006.

The Innsbruck branch of the Austrian Pirate Party (PPÖ) – which currently tries to settle feuds between federal leaders and regional department chiefs – won one of the Innsbruck parliament’s 40 seats on Sunday. The party, which did not compete in any provincial or federal ballot in Austria before, garnered 3.8 percentage points. Green Party founding member Freda Meissner-Blau warned Austria’s established parties from not taking the PPÖ and similar new political groups seriously.

Plasser said yesterday the PPÖ might manage to take the four per cent hurdle into parliament in next year’s federal election. Plasser explained that the German Pirate Party’s recent successes caused "a dynamic which could affect the political landscape of Austria". Former ÖVP Vice Chancellor Erhard Busek said the PPÖ must find popular personalities to front its future election campaigns while ÖVP State Secretary Sebastian Kurz appealed on fellow party members to help reforming politics.

Kurz, who became Austria’s first state secretary for integration last year, said at the weekend he preferred trying to change politics "from the inside". He said procedures and rules should be reformed by open-minded people who were already in charge rather than anyone from outside the political spectrum like the PPÖ and other new groups applying pressure on the established parties. Kurz was confirmed as head of the ÖVP’s youth department in Graz by all of the 300 attendants of a general summit in Graz on Saturday.

Kurz is seen as a possible future chief of the struggling ÖVP after managing to make it through immense waves of criticism by papers and political rivals following his nomination as integration secretary in April 2011. Just 23 per cent of Austrians would support the party in elections at the moment, according to a Karmasin poll. The party headed by Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger bagged 26 per cent in the general vote of 2008, down from 34.2 per cent in 2006.

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