Lyoness: a decisive issue in Austria's next elections?

Five years since the last general elections were held in Austria in 2008, on 29 September 2013, the people of Austria will elect their new parliament. For those unfamiliar with Austria's political structure, here's a brief summary:

Austria is a federation of states organised as a parliamentary democracy and headed by a president. The parliament constitutes the federal legislative authority and thus makes the federal laws, which are executed by the Austrian government and controlled by the Austrian judicial system. Due to the multitude of political parties active in Austria (caused by the principal of proportional representation), governments consist of coalitions of several political parties, that hold a majority of the 183 seats in the parliament. Thus, the Austrian government does not get directly chosen by the Austrian people, but is the result of negotiations based on the outcome of the legislative elections

Austria is currently governed by a coalition government of the two biggest political parties - the Social-Democrats (SPÖ) and the Liberals (ÖVP). According to the latest polls, this coalition hangs on to a very slim majority of 52% of the votes (SPÖ 27%; ÖVP 25%). Some earlier polls even contest that the coalition has a majority and rates both parties at an aggregate of 49-50%. While the Austrian media - so far - have chosen to profile the road towards the elections as a tight struggle between SPÖ and ÖVP to become the largest political party in Austria, the opposition parties may attempt to break down the coalition, in order to get a chance at becoming part of the government themselves.

According to the polls, the largest member of the opposition, the far-right FPÖ, has a stable support among the electorate of 18-19% of the votes. The Green party moves between 13 and 16 per cent, Team Stronach (founded by euro-skeptic Austrian-Canadian business man Frank Stronach) is expected to get up to 10% of the votes, with the rest of the votes divided up between several smaller political parties, including the BZÖ of Gerhard Huber and the late Jörg Haider.


While in the beginning of the 'Lyoness saga' it was SPÖ Member of Parliament (MP) Johann Maier who challenged the then-incumbent government (containing ÖVP and BZÖ) about the Lyoness racket; the roles have been reversed now and MP Gerhard Huber of BZÖ is one of the politicians giving the government a hard time about their lax attitude towards the global scam operated from within their borders.

Mr. Huber has received support from the Austrian Green party, which has also criticised the Austrian government and the authorities it's responsible for, for not putting a stop to Lyoness earlier and still allowing Hubert Freidl and his gang of racketeers to commit fraud all around the world.

Due to its small size, the BZÖ is unlikely to play a major role in the next Austrian elections. However, if the coalition of SPÖ and ÖVP gets broken up, the coalition possibilities slim down rapidly. It is unlikely that SPÖ will want to be part of the same coalition as FPÖ or BZÖ and reversely the ÖVP will not be very enthusiastic about governing with the Green party. Therefore, a three party coalition incorporating both SPÖ and ÖVP seems implausible.

On the left side of the Austrian political spectrum, there is not really a possible coalition either, as SPÖ and the Greens in best case total around 44% of the votes. On the right flank, there are some more possibilities, as ÖVP could team up with parties like FPÖ, Team Stronach and BZÖ (which could total up to 57% of the votes). However, the euro-skepticism of Team Stronach and FPÖ may be a deal breaker for ÖVP, like ÖVP's positive attitude towards Europe may turn Team Stronach and FPÖ off of the idea of jointly governing. Nevertheless, if SPÖ and ÖVP do not reach a majority in parliament, the best chances for a coalition still lay on the right flank of the Austrian political spectrum. Thus, the only chance for BZÖ to play a decisive role in Austrian politics for the coming five years, is if SPÖ and ÖVP fail to form a coalition government, which in return will probably only happen if SPÖ and ÖVP do not reach a total of more than 50% of the votes. To a lesser extent (because they have a considerably higher vote share - and thus will be a larger force in opposition - and the coalition chances on the left are way slimmer), the same goes for the Green party.

While under the current economic conditions in Europe it should not be to difficult for opposition members such as BZÖ, FPÖ and the Greens to find some serious issues that can be blamed on the current government of ÖVP and SPÖ, this strategy has not rewarded these parties over the last five years, given the persisting likeliness of an ÖVP and SPÖ coalition. Most opposition parties will realise that the Austrian population is very well aware that this government has performed under tough economic conditions, and that it is highly doubtful that a different government would have performed any better.

Thus, details could make the difference. Such a detail is constituted by the Lyoness case. However, politically, Lyoness constitutes a complicated problem for the main political actors. With 470,000 members in Austria, Lyoness is connected to about 5.6% of the Austrian population, and to roughly 10% of the amount of voters that showed up to the ballots during the last legislative elections in 2008.

Granted, it is unlikely that all these 470,000 members are 'premium members', yet given the facts, it is very likely that a big share of them is. The votes of these people could go either way. If they are still convinced that Lyoness is the 'great opportunity' it claims to be, they are not likely to vote for a party that wants to demolish this 'great opportunity'. Then again, the growing number of dissatisfied Lyoness 'members' in Austria will be more enthused to vote for such parties.

It seems that most Lyoness members in Austria are still pretty much under the delusion imprinted in their minds by the Lyoness racketeers. Therefore, the coalition partners SPÖ and ÖVP will feel strategically forced to avoid this controversial topic during the election campaigns. In fact, given Lyoness' history, it is not in the slightest improbable that Lyoness has told these political parties that if they come down too hard on Lyoness, the members will take their votes elsewhere.

Although this may seem like a sensible political strategy to many, it should not be forgotten that in the unfortunate event that Lyoness' inevitable downfall will hit Austria during the election campaigns, ÖVP and SPÖ will be the blamed parties for not taking action earlier and may wind up with hundreds of thousands disgruntled Lyoness victims voting for other parties. With a slim majority of 52-53% of the votes at best, the ÖVP-SPÖ coalition could not recover from such a hit. Therefore, it is in the best interest of nearly every opposition party to challenge the current Austrian government on their lax attitude towards the Lyoness racket over the last decade and to speed up the crumbling process of the Lyoness scam.

The election campaigns will only really kick-off after the Austrian population and politicians are back from vacation and only then we will see whether the political advisers of the Austrian parties have figured the same angle as we have. We are hopeful and expect at least some fireworks the coming weeks.

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