Social Democrats win in Vienna elections

Austria's Social Democrats expanded their majority in local Vienna elections Sunday, winning 49 percent of the vote in a poll that also saw the xenophobic Freedom Party do better than expected.

Observers paid close attention to the election, seen as a last litmus test ahead of national elections next year.

The Social Democrats' gain of 2 percentage points was below pollster's predictions, but Mayor Michael Haeupl said he was satisfied.

The People's Party _ which leads the national government _ placed second with 18.8 percent, a gain of 2.3 percentage points.

The rightist Freedom Party lost 5.2 percentage points to garner 14.9 percent of the vote, a result still seen as a success for the party because it exceeded pre-election polls. Former Freedom Party leader Joerg Haider and several other prominent members left the group earlier this year to form a new more centrist party, the Alliance for Austria's Future.

The Freedom Party campaigned with slogans such as "Liberated Women instead of the Mandatory Headscarf," and "German instead of 'Don't Understand'." Its leader, Heinz-Christian Strache, said he considered the result "almost a political miracle."

The Alliance for Austria's Future won just 1.1 percent of the vote, failing to reach the 5 percent threshold to participate in the bodies that govern the Austrian capital. The result undermines the credibility of the national coalition government, which comprises the People's Party and the Alliance. The Greens placed a close fourth with 14.7 percent of the vote, a gain of 2.3 percentage points.

The Sunday vote is the first Vienna election where the voting age was 16, down from 18 in previous polls. Other Austrian provinces recorded high turnout among youth when they lowered the voting age for local elections to 16.

Slightly more than 1.1 million voters were eligible to participate in the Vienna election, while 1.2 million could cast ballots in votes for the leadership of Vienna's individual districts. Turnout was 59 percent.

Non-Austrian EU citizens who are registered Vienna residents are eligible to vote in the district election but not in the poll for the city's overall leadership, AP reports.

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