31-Year-Old Conservative Set to Become Chancellor of Austria, Early Results Show

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Sebastian Kurz, a 31-year-old conservative, is set to become the next chancellor of Austria and Europe’s youngest leader, though he will likely need to form a coalition to rule, early results from Sunday’s election show.

Sebastian Kurz, Austrian Foreign Minister and leader of the conservative Austrian People’s Party speaks at the party's election event after initial results came in that give the party a first place finish and 31,6% of the vote in Austrian parliamentary elections on October 15, 2017 in Vienna. (Credit: Thomas Kronsteiner/Getty Images)
Sebastian Kurz, Austrian Foreign Minister and leader of the conservative Austrian People’s Party speaks at the party’s election event after initial results came in that give the party a first place finish and 31,6% of the vote in Austrian parliamentary elections on October 15, 2017 in Vienna. (Credit: Thomas Kronsteiner/Getty Images)

The People’s Party (OVP), which Kurz has led since May, is widely expected to form an alliance with the Freedom Party (FPO), putting the far-right in an Austrian governing coalition for the first time in more than 10 years.

With 90% of the votes counted, the OVP has gained the largest share of Parliament’s powerful National Council, with more than 31% of the vote, state broadcaster ORF reports. That should translate to 62 of 183 seats, according to ORF.

Kurz gave a speech at his party headquarters in Vienna following early results, promising a new style of leadership.

“We have been given a great responsibility by the voters today. We should be aware of that and that people are putting a lot of hope in our movement. There is a lot to do. It’s about establishing a new political style in our country,” he said.

Detailed results will be announced October 19 and full official results will be declared on October 31.

Sunday’s election was widely watched across Europe, where there has been a rise of populist far-right parties, many of which have campaigned on anti-immigration platforms.

Unlike Germany’s far-right AfD party — which won its first seats in the Bundestag in the federal elections there last month — the FPO has a long history in Austria’s Parliament and was part of a coalition government between 2000 and 2005.

The FPO and current Chancellor Christian Kern’s Social Democrats (SPO) both gained just over 26% of the vote, with the FPO predicted to take 52 seats and the FPO 51, according to ORF.

While the result appears to be a clear win for the conservatives, it also puts the far-right FPO in the powerful position of kingmaker, after a campaign period that saw a marked shift to the right.

Austria rejected a far-right presidency less than a year ago. But that vote was a close one, with the FPO’s Norbert Hofer missing out by a narrow margin.

Immigration takes center stage

Immigration has dominated the campaign. Kurz has taken a hard line, calling for limits on the number of refugees entering Europe and benefits cuts for EU migrants living in Austria.

In 2016, Kurz spearheaded a border crackdown across the Balkans designed to stem the flow of migrants, and this year he proposed plans to seal off the Mediterranean route to Europe.

Austria was governed by a coalition led by Chancellor Kern’s SPO and Kurz’s OVP, but that partnership collapsed in May, prompting a snap vote.

The decision to call an early election also followed the resignation of OVP’s former leader and Austria’s Vice-Chancellor Reinhold Mitterlehner, who said the government was riven by infighting.

With immigration dominating the campaign, the social issues at the heart of the SPO platform — including wealth redistribution and fighting unemployment — have been largely ignored.

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