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Sunday September 29, 2013 MYT 11:36:18 PM
Sunday September 29, 2013 MYT 11:37:43 PM
by michael shields AND georgina prodhan
Supporters of the Social Democratic Party (SPOe) react after first projections in the Austrian general election in Vienna September 29, 2013. REUTERS/Petr Josek
VIENNA (Reuters) - The partners in Austria's pro-Europe, centrist coalition appear to have won enough votes to form a new government, staving off a strong challenge from the Eurosceptic right wing, initial projections indicated on Sunday.
Chancellor Werner Faymann's Social Democrats (SPO) - who had campaigned on a platform of defending jobs and pensions and redistributing wealth - were poised to get 26.7 percent of the parliamentary vote, according to ARGE Wahlen projections reported by the Austria Press Agency.
The conservative People's Party (OVP) was set to get 23.6 percent, giving the two parties that have dominated post-war Austrian politics a combined - albeit reduced - majority for a five-year term in the 183-seat lower house.
The results were in line with Austrian TV projections.
If confirmed, the results for each of the two main parties will be their worst since the Second World War. As recently as the 1980s, they were scoring a combined 90 percent.
The anti-immigration Freedom Party (FPO), which seeks to end taxpayer-funded bailouts of struggling euro zone countries, boosted its share of the vote to 21.9 percent, according to the projections, which were based on a count of around 35 percent of votes.
The environmentalist Greens, who had been likely to join the existing coalition parties in government had they failed to secure a majority by themselves, were set to win 12 percent of the vote, below the 14 percent predicted by the most recent opinion polls.
Preliminary results excluding absentee ballots were due around 1730 GMT. More than 10 percent of the nearly 6.4 million eligible voters cast their ballots without going to polling stations, and their votes were due to be tallied by Monday.
SMALL PARTIES MAKE GROUND
The governing parties were counting on their record in piloting the Alpine republic through the global financial crisis relatively unscathed to win another five-year term.
Heinz-Christian Strache's FPO improved on the 17.5 percent it got in the 2008 election but could not overtake the OVP due to competition from car-parts magnate Frank Stronach's new party, also Eurosceptic but without the anti-foreigner tone.
Team Stronach was set to get 5.8 percent of the vote, ahead of the new liberal Neos party on 4.6 percent - just above the 4 percent threshold needed to enter parliament.
The small, right-wing and economically liberal Alliance for the Future of Austria (BZO), which split from the FPO in 2005, failed to win re-election, according to the projections.
Unlike in neighbouring Germany, where Chancellor Angela Merkel scored a landslide victory on September 22 partly on the strength of the German economy, many Austrians feel hard done-by despite the lowest jobless rate in the EU and economic growth well above the EU average.
A string of corruption scandals has contributed to disenchantment with mainstream Austrian politicians, helping to trigger ructions in provincial elections this year, in which long-entrenched parties were ousted from power.
Faymann had said he wanted to form a new coalition with the OVP should he win. Conservative leader Michael Spindelegger declined to return the compliment, leaving the door open for a centre-right coalition.
(Editing by Mark Heinrich)
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