AFP, VIENNA - Resurgent far-right parties dealt a severe blow to Austria's mainstream Social Democrats and conservatives in an election that left the country facing tense negotiations for a new government.
The success of the anti-immigrant Freedom Party and the Alliance for Austria's Future in Sunday's election also created international concern with Israel saying it was following events with "anxiety".
The centre-left Social Democrats and conservative OeVP, whose coalition collapsed forcing the election, made their lowest scores ever while the far right made huge gains.
The Standard newspaper called the election a "debacle" for the mainstream parties, while Kurier newspaper said they had "deprived themselves of power" by calling the snap election.
The Social Democrats held on to first place with 29.7 percent of the vote, but the result was a 5.6-point drop from 2006, while the OeVP was the biggest loser with 8.7-point drop to 25.6.
The Green party slipped slightly to 9.8 percent in an election with a turnout of more than 70 percent.
But the election was a triumph for Freedom Party leader Heinz-Christian Strache and his Alliance counterpart Jorg Haider, who are known for their populist rhetoric and anti-immigration stance, both having vowed to defend the rights of "true Austrians."
They have warned against the "Islamification" of society, posing as the defenders of low-income families, democratic freedoms and Austrian neutrality.
The Freedom Party finished third with 18 percent, a seven-point jump from the 2006 election, while the Alliance nearly tripled its score with 11 percent of the vote.
The swing to the right was a clear signal of voter anger with the constant political in-fighting that marked the "grand" coalition, observers said.
Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said his country was worried about the result. "We are following with concern and anxiety the increase in factions supporting xenophobia, denial (of the Holocaust) and friendship with neo-Nazis," he said.
Preliminary results showed the Social Democrats would have 58 seats, the conservatives 50, the Freedom Party 35, the Alliance 21 and the Greens 19 seats.
The exact distribution of the 183 parliamentary seats will only be officially announced on October 6. But the combined score of the far-right parties would put them in second place ahead of the conservatives.
Forming a new government could prove extremely difficult.
A repetition of the left-right coalition seems the most likely solution, but both sides must ensure that there is no return to the political paralysis under Social Democrat Chancellor Alfred Gusenbauer when even the simplest legislation seemed impossible, analysts said.
New Social Democrat leader Werner Faymann categorically ruled out a coalition with either far-right parties.
His aim was to form a "stable" government, preferably with the conservative OeVP.
But the OeVP's Wilhelm Molterer, 53, deputy chancellor and finance minister in the outgoing administration did not rule out a return to the opposition.
Strache ruled out joining forces with Haider's rival far-right Alliance, preferring instead a coalition with the Social Democrats. He called on Faymann to abandon his "obsession of ostracising" the Freedom Party.
Haider, governor of Carinthia province, expressed satisfaction at his party's surprise showing.
"We expected to double our score, but we've tripled it," Haider said. He, too, was ready to enter into negotiations to form a government.
Molterer, who had called early elections three months ago, described his party's performance as a "painful and dramatic defeat