WORLD

Ex-chan­cel­lor set to re­turn to power as far-right tum­bles

The Korea Times - - FRONT PAGE -

Aus­trian con­ser­va­tives won the most seats in snap elec­tions Sun­day, putting their 33-year-old leader Se­bas­tian Kurz on track to re­take power but forc­ing him into tough coali­tion ne­go­ti­a­tions af­ter a cor­rup­tion scan­dal sent his erst­while far-right al­lies pre­par­ing for op­po­si­tion.

VI­ENNA (AFP) — Aus­trian con­ser­va­tives won the most seats in snap elec­tions Sun­day, putting their 33-yearold leader Se­bas­tian Kurz on track to re­take power but forc­ing him into tough coali­tion ne­go­ti­a­tions af­ter a cor­rup­tion scan­dal sent his erst­while far-right al­lies pre­par­ing for op­po­si­tion.

Kurz’s Peo­ple’s Party (OeVP) gained 37 per­cent, up al­most six per­cent­age points from the last elec­tion two years ago, but not enough to form a gov­ern­ment on its own, ac­cord­ing to pro­jec­tions based on par­tial re­sults.

Kurz’s for­mer al­lies, the far-right Free­dom Party (FPOe), were the big­gest losers of the night, fall­ing 10 per­cent­age points to around 16 per­cent fol­low­ing the spec­tac­u­lar “Ibiza-gate” cor­rup­tion scan­dal in May.

The af­fair brought down the OeVP-FPOe coali­tion af­ter just 18 months in gov­ern­ment and trig­gered Sun­day’s snap poll.

The Greens were also big win­ners as cli­mate change rose to the top of vot­ers’ con­cerns, se­cur­ing around 14 per­cent of the vote.

That means they will be vi­able coali­tion part­ners for a new gov­ern­ment, but Green leader Werner Kogler said on Sun­day evening that in or­der to con­sider work­ing with Kurz, the party would need to see “rad­i­cal change” from the right-wing poli­cies pur­sued by the pre­vi­ous coali­tion.

The cen­ter-left So­cial Democrats look set for their worst-ever re­sult on around 22 per­cent of the vote, with the lib­eral NEOS party win­ning around eight per­cent.

A to­tal of 6.4 mil­lion peo­ple were el­i­gi­ble to vote in the small Alpine coun­try, with turnout es­ti­mated at 75.5 per­cent.

Kurz told ju­bi­lant sup­port­ers at party head­quar­ters on Sun­day evening the scale of the vic­tory had left him “al­most speech­less,” but gave few clues as to his next moves.

Be­fore the elec­tion, Kurz — a for­mer law stu­dent, who has en­joyed a rapid as­cent through the ranks to be­come the youngest-ever chan­cel­lor in 2017 — said he would keep all op­tions open.

“It is a big re­spon­si­bil­ity. We ac­cept this trust humbly and re­spect­fully, and I prom­ise we will do our best to honor this trust,” Kurz said.

The FPOe took a big­ger hit than ex­pected from the “Ibiza-gate” scan­dal which brought down its long­time leader Heinz-Chris­tian Stra­che, and was fol­lowed by a fresh in­ves­ti­ga­tion against him an­nounced in the past week — this time over al­leged fraud­u­lent ex­pense claims.

FPOe leader Nor­bert Hofer, a for­mer air­craft en­gi­neer who took over from Stra­che, told Aus­trian me­dia that he be­lieved Sun­day’s re­sult meant the party would not take part in coali­tion talks and that it was “pre­par­ing for op­po­si­tion.”

Pre­vi­ously, a re­newed coali­tion with the far-right — touted by Hun­gar­ian Prime Min­is­ter Vik­tor Or­ban and other na­tion­al­ists as a model for all of Europe — had looked a likely out­come.

Re­brand for Kurz?

The Greens failed to make it into par­lia­ment in the last elec­tion in 2017, in a shock re­sult, but have staged an im­pres­sive re­cov­ery, with an es­pe­cially strong show­ing in Aus­tria’s big cities.

The Greens’ gains put Kurz in a tough spot if he wants to try to woo them and re­brand him­self as fight­ing cli­mate change rather than im­mi­gra­tion.

“The Greens could be an op­por­tu­nity for Kurz to jump on the en­vi­ron­ment band­wagon while also get­ting the green wave un­der con­trol,” po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst Thibault Muzer­gues from the In­ter­na­tional Repub­li­can In­sti­tute told AFP, point­ing out that the OeVP in the more ru­ral Salzburg and Ty­rol re­gions al­ready worked with the Greens.

“For Kurz the im­por­tant thing will be to know who he will be able to best con­trol and who poses a dan­ger for him,” he added.

Form­ing a coali­tion with the So­cial Democrats (SPOe) is an­other op­tion.

Since World War II, ei­ther the OeVP or SPOe have al­ways been in gov­ern­ment, and for 44 years in to­tal the two have ruled to­gether.

But it was Kurz who ended their last “grand coali­tion,” lead­ing to the 2017 elec­tion.

Kurz has also floated the idea of rul­ing in a mi­nor­ity gov­ern­ment. But this could bring po­lit­i­cal un­cer­tainty or even trig­ger an­other elec­tion.

AP-Yon­hap

For­mer Aus­trian chan­cel­lor and top can­di­date of the Aus­trian Peo­ple’s Party, OeVP, Se­bas­tian Kurz waves to his sup­port­ers in Vi­enna, Aus­tria, Sun­day.

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