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Populists poised to shift Austria toward right

© GEORG HOCHMUTH / APA / AFP | Chairman of the Austrian People's Party (OeVP) Sebastian Kurz arrives before a TV debate on October 10, 2017 in Vienna. Austrian federal elections will take place on 15 October 2017.

Text by Tom WHEELDON

Latest update : 2017-10-15

Austria looks likely to move to the right in Sunday's elections. Conservative Sebastian Kurz is predicted to become prime minister, while the nationalist Freedom Party is expected to come second and could become part of the next coalition government.

“All polls show that Kurz will be the winner,” Reinhold Gärtner, professor of political science at Austria’s Innsbruck University, told FRANCE 24. Polls have consistently put Kurz’s conservative People’s Party (OVP) at first place with over 30 percent of the vote.

Meanwhile, the hard right Freedom Party (FPO) is projected to win at least 25 percent – double the score of the AfD, the nationalist party that shocked many by coming third in last month’s German elections.

If the polls are right, the 31-year-old foreign minister Kurz would become one of the world’s youngest leaders. Thanks to Austria’s proportional representative system, he would have to form a coalition, and polls suggest that the FPO and the Social Democrats (lagging in third place) are the only potential partners with enough seats to build a parliamentary majority.

It looks unlikely a coalition could arise between the SD and OVP, as they would need to overcome ten acrimonious years to work together again. What is certain, however, is that current chancellor and Social Democrats leader Christian Kern has vowed to take his centre-left party into opposition if they don’t win the election.



Kurz has ‘led the OVP to the right’

The OVP and FPO agree on cutting taxes and repatriating powers to Vienna from Brussels; both are opposed to gay marriage. The FPO proposes to stop immigration “until further notice”; its leader, Heinz-Christian Strache, recently told a rally that “Islam is not part of Austria.”

Echoing FPO sentiments, Kurz wants to shut Islamic kindergartens and cut welfare benefits for non-Austrians.

Kurz “has led the OVP to the right – definitely,” said Gärtner. “He wants to get voters from FPO. That’s why he supports a strict policy as far as refugees and foreigners are concerned.”

Austria has had nearly 150,000 asylum requests since 2015, making it one of Europe’s highest recipients of asylum seekers per capita, as large flows of migrants over the past few years have been blamed for the growth of right-wing populist parties across Europe, most notably in Germany.

But whereas the rise of the AfD marks a new phenomenon in the country’s post-war era, the FPO have been a strong presence in Austrian politics for two decades. “The FPO got 27 percent of the vote in the 1999 elections,” Gärtner pointed out.

The political scientist also told FRANCE 24 that there are historical and cultural reasons behind the considerable support for hardline right-wing policies in Austria.

He said a key factor is that “Austria has always had a centre-right majority”, while, culturally, “Austrians have very great respect for authorities”.

Gärtner also said that the country “had quite a delay in serious analysis of its own involvement in National Socialism – until the ’80s”.

Date created : 2017-10-14


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