The centre of political gravity in Austria shifted to the right after the conservative Austrian People’s party (ÖVP) came out top in national elections, making its 31-year-old leader, Sebastian Kurz, the youngest head of a government in the EU. Projections on Sunday night put the ÖVP ahead with 31.7% of the vote. The incumbent chancellor Christian Kern’s centre-left Social Democrats (SPÖ) were relegated to second place with 27% of the vote, while the far-right FPÖ took 25.9%, failing to match its best-ever result. For the first time in Austria’s history, the two rightwing parties both managed to increase their seats tally without taking votes off each other. The result represents a triumph for Kurz, who has turned around his party’s fortunes and said he was “overwhelmed” with the result, vowing to introduce to the country a “new political culture” of togetherness under his leadership.
The Vienna-born politician will probably be tasked with forming the next government, potentially in coalition with the FPÖ, a far-right party founded by a former Nazi functionary and SS member after the second world war.
Critics argue that Kurz, whose manifesto has called for lower taxes and tougher measures against “political Islam”, only achieved his victory by embracing a divisive agenda dictated by the far-right. Of ÖVP voters, 55% said they had picked the party because of its stance on asylum and integration policies.
The shift in Austria’s political landscape comes less than a year after the FPÖ’s Norbert Hofer was beaten in the presidential vote by a Green-backed candidate, Alexander Van der Bellen.