Austria and the Czech Republic go to the polls over the next few months with the posts of Chancellor and President up for grabs, respectively. A 31-year old wunderkind looks set to win in Austria but things might go to the wire over in the Czech Republic, as career Ambassador Pieter Swanepoel explains...
"The OVP are around [1.2] favourites to win Most Seats and that is understandable, given the popularity of Kurz. But who wins the election itself is only half the story, because of what happens in the post-election period, when coalitions might have to be formed."
Austrians hit the polls next month
Austria will hold a general election on 15 October. What we have seen there is the Austrian People's Party (OVP) move into the polling lead, under the leadership of Sebastian Kurz.
Initially Austria's election was meant to only happen next year, but persistent conflicts between the centre-left Social Democrats (SPO) and the centre-right OVP, led to a call for early elections.
Wunderkind in pole position
All available present polls show a sudden spike in the OVP's popularity, rocketing up from around the 22% mark, all the way up to well above 30%.
In May 2017, Foreign Minister, Kurz, became leader of the OVP. The 31-year-old is popular, not only because of his youthful image, but also his excellent communication skills.
He is often described as the "Wunderkind" of Austrian politics and he is shifting his party further to the right by promising to reduce social benefits for immigrants and to stop migration from Africa and the Middle East. He has also pledged to cut taxes and regulations, saying the state must be "slimmed down". Kurz is just [1.25] to be the next Chancellor.
At the time of writing, the OVP are around [1.2] favourites to win Most Seats and that is understandable, given the popularity of Kurz. But who wins the election itself is only half the story, because of what happens in the post-election period, when coalitions might have to be formed.
It is most unlikely that it will be with the SPO ([6.4] to get the most seats), because the present coalition between the Social Democrats and the OVP collapsed in May of this year. This political conflict has been building up over a lengthy period and is drawn on conflict lines such as immigration, EU integration and political distrust.
The most likely outcome to emerge from this election will be a coalition between the OVP and the right-wing Freedom Party of Austria (FPO), rated as [9.0] chances on the Exchange to get the most seats. The party is a member of the Eurosceptic "Europe of Nations and Freedom group" in the European Parliament. It will result in Austrian politics moving to the right.
Czech Presidential election: Zeman wants to stay on
A lot of early noise is coming out of the Czech Republic, generated by the presidential election to be held on 12-13 January 2018, with a runoff to be held on 26-27 January 2018, if required.
The incumbent Czech President Milos Zeman of the Social Democrats (CSSD) is standing for re-election and is just 8/11 to keep his position, while the independent candidates Jiri Drahos (5/6) and Michal Horacek (11/2) are considered his main rivals.
Other independent candidates, such as Otto Chaloupka, Karel Stogl and Jana Yngland Hruskova all presently have odds of 50/1 on the Betfair Sportsbook market.
A poll conducted by Media Research between 18-27 August gave Zeman 42.25% support. Drahos received 19.05% and Horacek 17.12%.
It must be kept in mind that in order to qualify for the ballot, candidates must gather more than 50,000 signatures from citizens or the support of 20 Deputies or ten Senators. This process is presently taking place as candidates must file their applications and signatures by 7 November.
On top of this, some parties intend holding presidential primaries prior to this date. It is speculated that both the CSSD and ANO2011 (derived from the Czech word "you"), may select Zeman as their candidate at their respective primaries.
...But Drahos could be the man to beat
There is growing concern about the state of Zeman's health. Also keep in mind that ANO2011 could win as many as 90 seats out of 200 during the upcoming Czech general election called for 20-21 October, some of these seats at the cost of the CSSD.
Should Milos Zeman win the primary in November and keep the support of ANO2011, he'll almost certainly be re-elected. Should Zeman be unsuccessful in the primaries or more likely, unfortunately, be let down by his health, I believe Jiri Drahos, counting on the support of parties such as TOP09 and the Christian Democratic Union (KDU-CSL), will become the Czech Republic's next President.
Recent Second Round polls support this view of mine, which clearly indicated that Drahos would beat both Zeman and Horacek in a runoff situation.