It was Wilhelm Molterer’s decision to quit the uneasy Austrian ruling coaltion that finally brought its fraught tenure to an end. The Christian Democrat leader felt there were too many fundamental differences to allow the partnership to continue.
It is the first time the finance minister has led his party in electoral battle and some have questioned whether he is the right man for the job in the current climate. An advocate of strict budgeting Molterer is portrayed by his opponents as stiff and lacking charisma.
He is frequently targeted by the influential daily Krone Zeitung, or ‘the Crown’ ready by some 43 percent of Austrians. He blasted back during the campaign. “I may not be the crown of Creation but I am certainly not the creation of Crown… not in this country,” he said.
Analysts say his party’s campaign was lacklustre. Molterer only appeared on posters near the end.
That was in stark contrast to the Social Demorats’ campaign, which featured the smiling face of their leader, Werner Faymann, from the outset. He has cultivated an easy-going man-of-the-peole image and has a powerful ally in the Krone and other elements of the popular press.
But his opponents characterise him as all style and no substance, lacking depth and direction. He helped to oust the unpopular Chancellor Alfred Gusenbauer after the party’s dismal showing in a state election earlier this year.
The Transport Minister does have a talent for oratory. “I, like you can feel the momentum building, if we believe in ourselves, we’re going to rise together to pursue our goal together…and I feel the commitment renewed over these past weeks,” he said at a party rally.
The Social Democrats had gone off the rails when party members elected Faymann in June to set them back on track. In order to lure back voters who had switched allegiance to the far right he offered a bouquet of promises, including reducing by half VAT on food and new financial benefits for families. He will find out if he has done enough on Sunday.