A series of policy measures including a ban on the Muslim face veil in public places was agreed on Monday (30 January 2017) as part of a coalition deal between the Social Democrats (SPÖ) and conservative Austrian People's Party (ÖVP).
Chancellor Christian Kern had been negotiating a deal with junior coalition partners of the ÖVP for the past five days. The negotiations touched on several issues, ranging from unemployment to education, from taxation to a cap on refugees staying in the country.
Asylum policy is a contentious issue in Austria that drove up the popularity of the far-right Freedom Party, which won a majority of votes in the first round of the presidential election in the spring of 2016, prompting the resignation of then-chancellor Werner Faymann.
The coalition agreement stated the ban on the veil was consistent with the country's policy of "open society". According to Reuters, the text read: "We believe in an open society that is also based on open communication. Full-body veils in public spaces stand against that and will therefore be prohibited."
The agreement saves the 'grand coalition' of the SPO and the ÖVP, who have been ruling in successive coalition governments since 2007, from a sudden parliamentary election. According to opinion polls reported on by Deutsche Welle, the Freedom Party would have had a chance of winning a snap vote if the government had collapsed and elections were called. The next parliamentary elections are scheduled to take place in October 2018.
The Freedom Party was close to clinching the country's presidency in May 2016 when its leader Norbert Hofer was narrowly defeated in the presidential election. A repeat of the vote, which the Freedom Party had contested, saw a clear defeat of Hofer against left-wing candidate Alexander Van der Bellen, who received 53.3% of the preferences against Hofer's 46.7% in December, and took office last week (26 January).