* Centrist cabinet resigns, to stay on in caretaker role
* Social Democrats woo conservatives, who keep distance
* Disarray could last months in affluent EU state
By Michael Shields
VIENNA, Oct 1 Austria's government formally
resigned on Tuesday but will stay on in a caretaker role as wary
conservatives consider whether to renew a coalition with the
centre-left after they suffered big losses to the far right at
Chancellor Werner Faymann's Social Democrats (SPO) are
putting all their efforts into forming another coalition with
their People's Party (OVP) junior partners to keep power with
the mainstream parties that have dominated post-war politics.
But the OVP was keeping a frosty distance from Social
Democrat suitors, mulling alternatives after the two big
pro-Europe parties were reduced to a flimsy majority in a
parliamentary election that buoyed the eurosceptic far right.
Stung by the partners' worst showing since 1945 and facing
some internal resistance to another "grand coalition", OVP
leader Michael Spindelegger was looking at options including
leading a bloc with the rightist Freedom Party (FPO), which got
over a fifth of Sunday's vote - and another smaller party.
The outgoing cabinet was asked by President Heinz Fischer to
stay in a caretaker capacity until a new government is formed.
Faymann was to return to the Hofburg presidential palace later
on Tuesday for talks with Fischer, who has made clear he wants
to see a two-party coalition emerge.
But the political uncertainty could run for months, delaying
tax, pension and education reforms that analysts say are needed
to preserve the Alpine republic's prosperity.
A long standoff could also boost the fortunes of the
anti-foreigner and anti-Islam FPO led by Heinz-Christian
Strache, who rails against bailouts of euro zone laggards and
plays to fears that asylum-seekers will leech off hard-working
Faymann has ruled out including the FPO in a coalition, so
would have to get the environmentalist Greens, car parts magnate
Frank Stronach's eurosceptic party and the new Neos liberal bloc
all on board should the OVP ditch the SPO.
Spindelegger could ask either Stronach or Neos to join an
OVP-FPO government. One senior OVP aide said he was betting on
continuing the centrist coalition that has governed since 2006,
but added: "Politics is full of surprises."
Spindelegger was to have his own meeting with Fischer on
Wednesday. The president traditionally asks the biggest party in
parliament to form a government, a step expected for next week.
OVP power broker Erwin Proell, governor of Lower Austria
province, told ORF radio he still thought a fresh coalition with
the SPO made sense if the squabbling allies - badly split over
tax and education policy - could find a way to cooperate.
A two-party government was surely better than one with three
or four partners, he said, heaping scorn on Stronach, whose
party got nearly 6 percent of the vote.
"Why would you want to form a government with someone who
fears the Chinese could attack us? This is ludicrous," Proell
said, citing Stronach's comment during a debate that Austrian
neutrality meant little if the country was invaded by Chinese.