By Askin Kiyagan
VIENNA (AA) - Over six million Austrian voters will head to polls on Sunday to elect new government in a snap general election following the fall of the coalition in May.
The snap general election decision came following the collapse of a 17-month-old far right coalition after then-vice chancellor and Freedom Party head Heinz Christian Strache stepped down from his posts due to a corruption scandal, revealed when a secret video footage emerged in May.
For almost the last four months, the country is being ruled by former Constitutional Court head Brigitte Bierlein -- who was appointed by the President Alexander Van der Bellen as chancellor -- and the interim government she formed with high-level bureaucrats.
Less than a week before the election, almost everyday, TV debates of political party leaders set the agenda of the country, while heated debates escalated the political tension.
Rather than concrete pledges of the running parties, election agenda is set by the corruption scandal of the far-right coalition government, financial aids taken from the individuals -- allegedly not declared to the treasury by the former Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and his party -- as well as the usual topics of European elections such as migration, refugees and "political Islam".
With a population of around 8.8 million, Austria has one of the highest welfare levels in central Europe. There are around 800,000 Muslims in the country, where 1.4 million foreigners live.
Refugee-origin citizens make 23.3% of the country population, according to the Austrian Statistical Office.
- Over 6M voters to cast ballot
Some 6.4 million voters will cast their ballots on Sunday to elect the 33th government.
Eight parties will join the election -- which was originally slated for fall 2021 -- and a total of 1,476 MP candidates will vie for a place in the 183-seat Federal Assembly.
- 27 Turkish-origin MP candidates
Around 300,000 Turkish-origin people live in Austria and 100,000 of them are eligible to vote.
Some 27 Turkish-origin MP candidates will take part in the election to win a seat in the parliament.
Most of the Turkish candidates are entering the election with the Social Democratic Party (SPO), Communist Party of Austria and Green Party, while they could not find a place for themselves in mainstream parties such as the central-right Austrian People’s Party (OVP) and New Austria and Liberal Forum (NEOS) party.
Voters will cast their ballots between 7 a.m.-5 p.m. local time (0500GMT - 0300GMT) in 12,000 ballot boxes that will be set up 10,181 voting places in 39 electoral districts.
- Voting age
While everyone at the age of 16 and older are eligible to cast a vote in Austria -- which has a 4% election threshold -- it is not compulsory to vote.
Austrians who live outside the country can also cast their ballots by "ballot letter" which means sending them via mail service.
- 5 parties expected to enter parliament
The SPO and OVP, two most deep-rooted parties of the country, as well as FPO, Greens and NEOS are expected to enter the parliament.
The far-right Freedom Party of Austria (FPO) was formed by people close to the Nazis following the World War II, and the Greens was formed in the 80s when Western communities became conscious about climate, and protection of the environment.
The OVP -- led by former-Chancellor Sebastian Kurz -- leads the election with around 33%, according to latest surveys conducted in the country.
The SPO follows with 22%, while FPO becomes the third with 20%.
The Greens, which could not make it to the assembly in the last election, is expected to get 12%, while the NEOS -- active in policy since 2012 -- is expected to receive 8%.
- Coalition options
There are three different coalition scenarios for the aftermath of the election, according to experts.
The strongest option is the far-right coalition government that will be formed by the OVP and FPO for a second time.
Another option is a trilateral coalition by the OVP, Greens and NEOS. But due to the many disagreements between party programs of the Greens and OVP, the option is considered unlikely.
A coalition by the OVP and SPO also has a low chance due to highly opposite discourses of the parties.
*Contributions and writing by Sena Guler