Austrian chancellor booed at party rally after election drubbing

VIENNA (Reuters) - Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann faced a barrage of boos and whistles at his Social Democratic Party’s May Day rally on Sunday as his opponents demanded that he resign after the party was thrashed in last week’s presidential election.

Austria's Chancellor Werner Faymann speaks during a news conference in Vienna, Austria, April 26, 2016. REUTERS/Heinz-Peter Bader

Faymann defended the course his coalition government has taken despite the drubbing both ruling parties suffered last Sunday, when the far right achieved a record result.

“We need laws and measures that ensure humanity and order,” he said in a speech to tens of thousands of party supporters in front of Vienna’s city hall, a phrase he has often used when referring to the government’s hardening immigration policy.

Calls have grown within the party for Faymann to take personal responsibility for the election result and step down. Many of his critics want a party conference to be brought forward so that senior figures can be replaced.

Faymann’s opponents at the rally on Sunday held up placards saying “resign” and “party conference now”. They booed and blew whistles as he spoke and when his name was mentioned.

Faymann, who has been head of the party and Austria’s chancellor since 2008, dismissed his critics last week, saying they did not represent the majority and that he intended to stay on. He adopted a slightly more conciliatory tone on Sunday.

“One has to withstand criticism and take it seriously, but the course is right,” he told Austrian news agency APA and broadcaster ORF.

Sunday’s election was a humiliation for the Social Democrats and their junior coalition partner, the conservative People’s Party, the country’s two traditional parties of government.

For the first time since the head of state became directly elected in 1951, their combined share of the vote fell below 50 percent, collapsing to less than a quarter.

Vienna mayor Michael Haeupl, one of the party’s most influential figures, has expressed his support for Faymann, and said in his speech on Sunday that the party should focus on policies rather than on staffing.

A general election is due to be held in 2018.

Both the Social Democrats and the People’s Party, suffered a series of electoral losses last year, and the far-right Freedom Party is now the country’s most popular, regularly polling above 30 percent.

Public concerns about immigration and rising unemployment as well as dissatisfaction with the two ruling parties, which have dominated Austrian post-war politics, have fueled the rise in support for the far right.

Freedom Party candidate Norbert Hofer came first in last Sunday’s presidential election with 35 percent of votes, sending him into a run-off on May 22 against former Greens leader Alexander van der Bellen, who is running as an independent.

Reporting by Francois Murphy; Editing by Pravin Char