‘Whizz-kid’ seen mov­ing Aus­tria right in elec­tion

The Phnom Penh Post - - WORLD - Si­mon Sturdee and So­phie Makris

AUS­TRIA is set to move to the right in elec­tions on Sun­day with con­ser­va­tive Se­bas­tian Kurz ex­pected to be­come Europe’s youngest head of govern­ment and form a coali­tion with the anti-im­mi­gra­tion Free­dom Party.

The cen­tre-right Peo­ple’s Party (OeVP), re­branded by Kurz, 31, as his per­sonal turquoise “move­ment”, is fore­cast to come first with over 30 per­cent, polls sug­gest.

But in a fresh tri­umph for Europe’s pop­ulists just af­ter Al­ter­na­tive for Ger­many (AfD) be­came the third-big­gest party in par­lia­ment there, the Free­dom Party (FPOe) looks set to be sec­ond or third with at least 25 per­cent – dou­ble the AfD’s score.

Aus­tria has had al­most 150,000 asy­lum claims since 2015, mak­ing the wealthy Alpine coun­try of 8.75 mil­lion one of Europe’s high­est re­cip­i­ents per capita. Like the AfD, France’s Na­tional Front and Geert Wilders in the Nether- lands, the FPOe – which al­most won the pres­i­dency in De­cem­ber – has stoked con­cerns about the in­flux, while also mov­ing left on so­cial is­sues.

“No, Is­lam is not part of Aus­tria,” party head Heinz-Chris­tian Stra­che, 48, re­cently told a cheer­ing, flag-waving FPOe rally.

Im­mi­gra­tion must stop “un­til fur­ther no­tice”, its pro­gramme says, and asy­lum is tem­po­rary.

Wun­der­wuzzi (“whizz-kid”) Kurz took over the OeVP in May and ended its ac­ri­mo­nious “grand coali­tion” with the So­cial Democrats (SPOe).

Pre­sent­ing him­self as a breath of fresh air de­spite be­ing in the govern­ment since 2011 and the OeVP hav­ing been in power non­stop since 1987, the for­eign min­is­ter helped his party leapfrog the FPOe to lead opin­ion polls.

This was partly thanks to Kurz swing­ing to the right, talk­ing tough on im­mi­gra­tion and pledg­ing to both shut Is­lamic kinder­gartens and cut wel­fare pay­ments for for­eign­ers.

Kurz and Stra­che also see eye-to-eye on low­er­ing taxes, re­form­ing Aus­tria’s bloated bu­reau­cracy and want­ing the EU to be less in­volved in how the coun­try is run.

The once-mighty SPOe, in govern­ment for a to­tal of around 60 years since 1945, looks set to be the main loser on Sun­day de­spite it too tak­ing a harder line on mi­grants.

Chan­cel­lor Chris­tian Kern, 51, has suf­fered a string of mishaps, scan­dals and res­ig­na­tions. Most dam­ag­ingly, an Is­raeli elec­tion con­sul­tant – since fired – al­legedly set up fake Face­book ac­counts with anti-Semitic con­tent on be­half of the SPOe to dam­age Kurz.

Kern has said the SPOe will go into op­po­si­tion if it doesn’t win the elec­tion, mak­ing an­other “grand coali­tion” un­likely – un­less a party coup top­ples him or he changes his mind.

Aus­tria could be­come a tricky EU part­ner. Vi­enna will hold the bloc’s pres­i­dency in the sec­ond half of 2018, just when Brus­sels wants to con- clude Bri­tain’s talks to leave the bloc in March 2019.

Stra­che wants Aus­tria pos­si­bly to join the Viseg­rad group of east­ern and cen­tral Euro­pean coun­tries in­clud­ing Hun­gary and Poland, a thorn in Brus­sels’ side. He thinks Bri­tain “will prob­a­bly be bet­ter off af­ter Brexit” and de­mands EU sanc­tions on Rus­sia be lifted.

But Kurz too, and his ideas on ev­ery­thing from im­mi­gra­tion to eco­nomic pol­icy, could prove a source of con­flict, said Pa­trick Moreau, an Aus­tria spe­cial­ist at the French Na­tional Cen­tre for Sci­en­tific Re­search.

The young leader does not sub­scribe to the agenda of French eu­rophile Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron, who has out­lined an am­bi­tious re­form pro­posal for the bloc, he said.

“Kurz’s po­si­tions are pretty much di­a­met­ri­cally op­posed to those of French Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron and are to a large ex­tent in con­flict with Merkel,” Moreau said.

“It’s an ex­plo­sive com­bi­na­tion.”

SERGEY PONOMAREV/THE NEW YORK TIMES

Ro­hingya refugees from Myan­mar ar­rive in Shah Porir Dwip af­ter cross­ing the Naf River on Oc­to­ber 1.

GE­ORG HOCHMUTH/AFP

Chair­man of the Aus­trian Peo­ple’s Party Se­bas­tian Kurz ar­rives be­fore a TV de­bate on Tues­day in Vi­enna.

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