Austria’s new conservative leader calls for snap election

Sebastian Kurz, the new leader of the center-right Austrian People’s Party, has called for a snap election this fall. Social Democratic Chancellor Christian Kern has conceded that the governing coalition has shattered.

Sebastian Kurz, the newly-elected leader of the conservative Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP), said Sunday that he would hold talks with his social democratic coalition partners and suggest they jointly propose a snap election.

“I will meet Chancellor Christian Kern and President [Alexander] Van der Bellen tomorrow and make a suggestion,” Kurz said. “From my point of view the first step must be that we reach a joint decision in favor of snap elections.”

Kurz, who also serves as Austria’s foreign minister, was elected ÖVP leader on Sunday following the resignation earlier this week of Vice Chancellor Reinhold Mitterlehner.

Uneasy coalition

Mitterlehner’s announcement that he was stepping down amid political infighting cast major doubt over Austria’s governing coalition. On Sunday, Kern admitted that he expected Mitterlehner’s resignation would lead to early elections this fall. “There will definitely … be an election, I assume in the coming autumn,” Kern told Austria’s ORF TV.

The chancellor has so far been reluctant to call a snap election, calling instead for Austria’s testy coalition to keep working until its term ends next year. However, Kurz’s election to the helm of his party effectively rules that out, having run on the promise of terminating the coalition’s agreement and pledging a snap election.

Read more: Austrian foreign minister suggests ‘refugees should be held offshore’

“It was the case from the first day onwards that there was a group within the ÖVP that wanted to work with us constructively … and then there were some who were less interested in this government succeeding,” Kern said. “They have now prevailed within the ÖVP.”

Kurz, a young star in Austrian politics, is widely seen as the best hope in reviving the conservative party’s fortunes thanks to his law-and-order policy package, which includes a tough line on immigration. Some surveys suggest the ÖVP could even jump from third to first place in the polls under the 30-year-old’s leadership.

Opening the door for the Freedom Party

Kern also warned that an early election could also open the door for the far-right populist Freedom Party (FPÖ) to enter the national government. Polls show the FPÖ leading in opinion polls, while the party’s candidate last year in the presidential election, Norbert Hofer, made it to the final runoff,narrowly losing to the left-leaning Van der Bellen.

“The consequences will be substantial,” Kern warned.

Read more: Fear of FPÖ driving Austria to the right?

Kurz’s shift to the right and the blurring of lines between the ÖVP and FPÖ could also see the two parties from a right-wing coalition. In the parliament’s current formation, the two right-wing parties are just three seats short of forming a majority.

dm/jlw (dpa, AFP, AP)

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