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Analysis of the
1999 Parliamentary Elections

0. Preliminary remarks
1. Pre-electoral situation
2. Time of the voting decision
3. Party changers
4. Key motives
5. Socio-demographic groups
6. Traditional determinants
7. Transformation of party system
8. References
9. Authors


7. Transformation of the party system

The 1999 parliamentary elections were a turning point and point to far-reaching consequences for the Austrian party system. The historic arrangement of a party system which is held in a state of equilibrium by two dominating parties embedded in firmly established social milieus has definitely become history. What took shape at the 1996 election of the European Parliament for the first time – the competition between three parties of roughly the same size – has turned into reality for Austrian parliamentary elections on October 3. Long-term changes in the underlying structures of party competition, which only seemingly came to a halt in the 1995 parliamentary elections, have continued to progress under the surface and contributed to a transformation which is unprecedented in Austria. The particular cornerstones of this transformation are as follows:

  • the dramatic losses of the Social Democratic Party, which hit an all-time low in the 1999 parliamentary elections;

  • the stalemate situation between the FPO and OVP regarding the election outcome, as only after the counting of the absentee ballots it will be clear which of the two parties will actually rank second or third by a very narrow margin;

  • the spectacular reorientation in the voting behaviour of the Austrian workers, which made the FPO the dominant workers’ party;

  • the fundamental reorientation of the voting behaviour in the younger generation of voters, to the detriment of the two traditional parties SPO and OVP;

  • the far-reaching changes in the conflicting structures of the Austrian party system, which threatens to force the two traditional parties SPO and OVP in particular into the opposition;

  • the clear decline of voter turnout compared to former Austrian elections including the rise in voting abstention as a sign of protest;

  • the volatile moods of a public opinion which is to an increasing degree controlled by the press concentrating on editorial news value and on circulation;

  • finally, the problems of governing and in finding a functioning government majority.

The 1999 parliamentary elections were obviously a vote for change as well as an expression of fundamental changes in society. In the next weeks it will be equally important to give a responsible answer as well as to reasonably interpret the voters’ undefined desire for political changes in the country.

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