Vienna (dpa) – Austria’s far-right Freedom Party (FPOe) received increasing support from Vienna’s citizens in Sunday’s city council elections but failed to topple social democratic mayor Michael Haeupl, according to projections.
After an election campaign dominated by migration policy issues, the far-right ended up with a record 31 per cent of the ballots in Vienna, 5 percentage points more than in the previous election in 2010.
Pollsters had predicted a 10-point increase and a head-to-head race with the Social Democratic Party (SPOe), which has ruled the Austrian capital since 1945.
The Social Democrats shed 5 percentage points and collected nearly 40 per cent of votes.
Haeupl made clear on Sunday that his humanitarian stance toward refugees had won over the Freedom Party’s xenophobia.
“I think that it’s important to help people who come to us fleeing murder, terror or hunger in refugee camps,” he said.
Thousands of people from crisis regions have been arriving each day in the capital, which has 1.8 million inhabitants.
Although most of the migrants travel on to Germany, more than 56,000 people have claimed asylum in Austria this year.
Strache said he was ready to become mayor. “It didn’t work out today, but we came a step closer,” he said.
The Vienna city election outcome reflected a rift over the migration issue that has also become apparent in Austria as a whole.
Strache has demanded strict border controls, winning the support of many Austrians who fear that the job market and the social security system are unable to cope with so many arrivals.
On the other hand, refugees have been welcomed by many citizens offering food, medicines and clothes. Some 100,000 people demonstrated to show their solidarity with migrants last weekend in the city centre.
A survey published on Sunday showed that the uneasiness about the influx of migrants runs across the political spectrum.
Twenty per cent said they were angry about how politicians are handling the issue, while 48 per cent expressed concern, according to the SORA polling institute.
Buoyed by a wide sense that the government of Social Democratic Chancellor Werner Faymann has been unable to cope with the situation, the Freedom Party has topped nation-wide survey for weeks.
Three years ahead of the next scheduled parliamentary election, one in three voters support the far-right.