Voters in Austria have finished casting their ballots in an election that looks likely to return a grand coalition to power. Predictions indicated their share of the vote had been significantly eroded by euroskeptics.
Initial polling projections showed that the Social Democrats (SPÖ) had won 26.7 percent on Sunday, a drop from 29.3 percent in the last elections in 2008.
The conservative People's Party (ÖVP) - the coalition partner of the SPÖ - saw its share of the vote fall from 26 percent to 23.7 percent, according to projections by the ARGE research institute of the Austria Press Agency. The figures, based on the 35 percent of votes already counted, were only slightly lower than Austrian television projections.
Both projected results would be the worst in the history of both parties.
Such a result would leave Chancellor Werner Faymann of the SPÖ (pictured, center), with little choice but to seek to continue with his current "grand coalition" with the ÖVP.
The two parties appeared to have successfully staved off a challenge by the euroskeptic, anti-immigration Freedom Party - which is keen to see an end to bailouts for struggling eurozone countries. The Freedom Party enjoyed a rise in support to garner 21.9 percent of the vote.
Meanwhile, the new political party bankrolled by Austrian-Canadian billionaire Frank Stronach, which is also critical of the European Union, won 5.8 percent of the vote.
The liberal NEOS party looked set to have gained 4.6 percent, clearing the four percent threshold necessary for parliamentary representation.
The right-wing, economically liberal Alliance for the Future of Austria (BZÖ) party appeared to have fallen short of the necessary number to gain places in the 183-seat lower house.
Faymann has said he is eager to form a new coalition with the ÖVP if he wins, although conservative leader Michael Spindelegger has not ruled out the possibility of centre-right coalition.
rc/pfd (AFP, AP, Reuters)
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