Austria lurches to right 

Austria lurches to right 

Sebastian Kurz (pictured), 31, the leader of the Austrian People’s Party, is set to become the world’s youngest national leader. 

Christian Kern, Austria’s defeated Social Democratic chancellor, said the country had experienced a “massive slide to the right” after the extremist Freedom Party secured its best result this century.

Two years after the migration crisis, populist forces are still able to harness anger to make electoral gains.

Kurz, the foreign minister, came first in the election after moving his conservative party firmly to the right and adopting immigration policies of the Freedom Party.

The next chancellor campaigned on the need to strengthen border controls, reduce caps on refugees and slash benefits for newcomers.

“I’ll fight with all my strength for change in this country,” Kurz told turquoise-clad supporters, the colour he adopted to signal a new era for the People’s Party after decades of black. “There’s a lot to do.”

Freedom won 26 per cent of the vote, its best result since 1999 under Jörg Haider, coming third.

The outgoing Social Democrat government had 26.9 per cent and the People’s Party was the winner, at 31.6 per cent.

The far right is expected to become part of the government as Kurz will need a coalition partner to form a parliamentary majority and the Freedom Party is the most likely option.

The election comes after Alternative for Germany on September 24 secured 13 per cent support in the Bundestag elections, putting 92 MPs in the 709-seat chamber.

Hundreds of thousands of migrants fleeing war, oppression and poverty passed through Austria in 2015 and early 2016 and tens of thousands stayed in the country and applied for asylum.

“Austrians are fearful because of immigration and the refugee crisis,” said Reinhard Heinisch of the University of Salzburg. “Kurz addressed these fears, and played with these fears.”

Freedom’s first leader was a former SS officer and its current leader was a neo-Nazi youth activist. It formed a coalition with the People’s Party for five years in 2000. The European Union imposed sanctions against Austria to demonstrate its displeasure with the far-right party’s inclusion in the administration.

Heather Grabbe, director of the Open Society European Policy Institute in Brussels, said: “The swing this year has gone too far towards complacency . . . the structural factors that led to the rise of populism are still there — especially the many voters who don’t feel represented by the big-tent parties of centre right and left.”

Sebastian Kurz. Picture credit: Wikimedia  


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