The far-right Freedom Party (FPOe) doubled its votes Sunday in a regional election in Upper Austria province dominated by the issue of migration, according to final results issued by the provincial government.
With a result of 30 per cent, FPOe became Upper Austria‘s second-strongest party, relegating the Social Democratic Party (SPOe) to third place.
The FPOe had “taken the worries and concerns of the population seriously and understood them,” partly leader Heinz-Christian Strache said.
Voter surveys showed that nearly two thirds of voters felt that the refugee issue was important.
Austria is the main transit country for migrants travelling from the Balkans to Germany. Nearly 19,800 people arrived in Austria on the weekend, police estimated.
The populist right-wingers had called for stricter border controls and a fence similar to Hungary‘s to control the flow of thousands of migrants that have been arriving daily in recent weeks. They also accused the government in Vienna of inaction amid what they called “asylum chaos.”
The central government and regional politicians had bickered for months over creating sufficient accommodation for new refugees.
As arrivals soared over the past weeks, the government introduced border controls, deployed the army at the border and started discussing more restrictive asylum rules shortly before the regional election.
Social Democratic Chancellor Werner Faymann said the migratory flow from Syria was not the government‘s fault. “I say yes to controls and order, but it must absolutely done in a humane manner,” he said.
Faymann‘s party got 18 per cent of the votes, nearly 7 percentage points less than in the previous election in 2009.
The conservative People‘s Party (OeVP), which forms a coalition with the Social Democrats in Faymann‘s cabinet, remained the strongest force in Upper Austria but plummeted 10 percentage points to 36 per cent.
Upper Austria‘s conservative governor Josef Puehringer said the EU‘s migration policy decisions in the past days had come too late to alter the election result.
The FPOe hopes to carry Sunday‘s momentum forward to the Vienna city council polls on October 11. Three years before the next regular parliamentary election, the rightists have been leading surveys for months, ahead of the two national coalition parties.