Austria lurches to the right and elects youngest ever leader

Sebastian Kurz is just 31

Jon Stone
Europe Correspondent
Monday 16 October 2017 10:31
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Austrian politics has veered strongly to the right with gains for the far-right and conservative parties in elections this weekend.

31-year-old Sebastian Kurz appears poised to become chancellor after coalition negotiations are concluded, with his OVP party topping the poll with over 31 per cent of the vote.

The most likely coalition partners for the man who would be the West’s youngest leader are the FPO, a far-right outfit that rails against foreigners and Muslims.

With results still rolling in it is unclear whether the FPO or the SPO, the centre-left social democrats, have come second – with both parties on around 26 per cent of the vote.

Preliminary results of the election also saw the Austrian Greens, once one of the strongest green parties in Europe, knocked out of Parliament – despite one of their members winning the country’s presidential election last year.

Declaring victory on Sunday night to his supporters, Mr Kurz said: “It is time for change in this country. Today is a strong order for us, to change this country, and I say thank you to you all who made this possible.

“I'm overwhelmed, I am happy, and I look forward to working for Austria.”

Mr Kurz’s message of change come despite his party having been in government, where he has served as Foreign Minister since 2013, continuously since 1986 with either the FPO or SPO.

The OVP has long dominated Austrian politics and excluding a break in opposition from 1970 to 1986, the party has been government since the Second World War.

Until this year’s election Austria was governed by a grand coalition of OVP and SPO. A return of the OVP-SPO coalition seems unlikely, however, as the government collapsed in the spring amid acrimony.

Heinz-Christian-Strache, leader of the far-right FPO

The election campaign was dominated by the issue of immigration, with the FPO painting the current government as an establishment stitch-up.

Mr Kurz moved his party to the right, pledging to shut down migration routes to Europe, bar recent immigrants from receiving benefits, and cap payments to refugees.

The ramping up of anti-foreigner policies by the conservatives came after the far-right FPO narrowly missed out on capturing the presidency in last year’s general election.

Surveys suggest the FPO did best among young voters, while the SPO and OVP attracted older ones.

The last time the FPO entered government in the year 2000, other EU states briefly imposed diplomatic sanctions on Austria with the aim of forcing the extremists from government.

The sanctions were short-lived, however, after warnings that they could be counter-productive and stoke up nationalist sentiment in the country.

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