VIENNA, Sept 18 (Reuters) - Austrians vote on Sept. 29 to elect a new parliament for a five-year term.
The ruling pro-Europe coalition of the centre-left Social Democrats and centre-right People's Party faces challenges from the right-wing Freedom Party, environmentalist Greens and a new eurosceptic party formed by car parts magnate, Frank Stronach.
Nine parties are running at the national level? for 183 seats in Austria's parliament, although only five parties have a reasonable chance to pass the 4 percent threshold to get in.
The Social Democrats (SPO), led by 53-year-old Chancellor Werner Faymann, lead opinion polls on around 28 percent, close to the 29.3 percent they got in 2008. Their campaign has focused on securing jobs and pensions, and preventing the return of a centre-right government. The party favours introducing a wealth tax and extending special taxes on banks to help reduce debt and deficits.
The People's Party (OVP) is campaigning to unshackle business as a way to promote economic growth that can help shore up public finances. Led by Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger, 53, the OVP is in second place in polls at around 25 percent - it got 26 percent in 2008 - boosting chances for another coalition of the two big parties that have dominated post-war politics.
Heinz-Christian Strache's far-right Freedom Party (FPO) is the biggest opposition group and set to improve on the 17.5 percent it got in the last election. Strache, 44, is a polarising figure who has led opposition to taxpayer-funded bail-outs of euro zone countries like Greece, Portugal and Ireland. His eurosceptic and anti-foreigner stance appeals to around a third of Austrians who distrust deeper ties in Europe.
The pro-Europe Greens look set to gain around five points from their 2008 results, when they got 10.4 percent of the vote. Party leader Eva Glawischnig, 44, has criticised corruption after a series of scandals embarrassed the major parties, but seems set to join a government only if the two big parties fail to clinch enough votes to form another two-way coalition.
Austro-Canadian billionaire Stronach's fledgling campaign to break Austria's power duopoly and slash the size and influence of the public sector has won over nearly 10 percent of voters. He created a buzz by calling for a break-up of the euro zone and a return to national currencies. Stronach, 81, has given mixed signals on whether the new party - which has joined a coalition in Salzburg province - would enter a centre-right government.
Polling stations close at 5 p.m. (1500 GMT), when the first exit polls will be published. Preliminary results should be available within two to three hours, and final results will be published on Oct. 3 once all voting cards have been counted.
The Austrian president traditionally asks the head of the party with the most votes to form a government, a process that can take several weeks. (Reporting by Michael Shields)
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