Political Parties: A Cross-National Survey
New York: The Free Press, 1980: pp. 318-319
Austria: The Party System in 1950-1955 and 1956-19621
Following World War II, Austria was occupied by the Allied powers and divided into four zones of occupation, much like Germany. The old constitution of 1929 was declared in force, and a former chancellor and old Social Democrat, Karl Renner, was invited to form a provisional government. Leaders of the two major pre-war parties were consulted, and elections were held quickly in November 1945. The old Christian Socialists, reorganized as the People's Party, won 52 percent of the seats in the lower chamber, the Nationalrat, and the reborn Socialist Party won 46 percent--with the Communists getting the remaining 2 percent. The two historic rival parties then governed the country through a "grand coalition," which was aimed primarily at achieving independence from the occupying powers.
In the 1949 elections, a rightist protest party, the League of Independents, won 10 percent of the seats from the governing coalition, but the coalition held firm. Leopold Figl of the People's Party, which had a small plurality in the Nationalrat, continued as chancellor with Socialist support. Throughout our period, the People's Party maintained a plurality in parliament and continued to furnish the chancellors, while the Socialists continually won in the presidential elections and supplied the presidents. Through the political cooperation of these two major parties, Austria extracted a treaty from the former Allied powers in May 1955, guaranteeing independence for Austria, which promised that it would remain neutral in foreign affairs. All occupying forces were withdrawn by October 1955.
The two major parties still operated as a grand coalition in governing Austria throughout the second half of our period, when Austria enjoyed full independence. The only opposition it encountered in the Nationalrat was from the fading Communist Party and from remnants of the League of Independence, reorganized in 1956 as the Liberal Party or the Freedom Party.
The Austrian party system was one of the most stable of the competitive systems in our study. All three of the original parties continued through 1978, and no new parties qualified for study.
Original Parties, Continuing
101 People's Party. In the 1966 elections, the People's Party won an absolute majority of the seats and abandoned the "grand coalition" with the Socialists, forming under Josef Klaus the first single party government during our study. The party lost the government in the 1970 elections, however, and remained in opposition since.
102 Socialist Party. Denied the chancellor's office sunder the coalition with the People's Party, the Socialists emerged from the 1970 elections with a plurality of a seats and formed a minority government under Bruno Kreisky, who continued as chancellor backed with parliamentary majorities after the 1971 and 1975 elections.
103 Freedom Party. The Freedom Party's legislative representation stabilized at around 5 percent of the seats in the Nationalrat, and the party continued throughout our time period.
Fears of governmental instability following the abandonment of coalition government between the People's Party and the Socialists proved unfounded, as Austrian politics entering 1979 remained confined to the stable three-party system established in the early 1950s.