Austria's right-wing 'whizz-kid' Sebastian Kurz
Vienna (AFP) –
"Whizz-kid", "Basti Fantasti" and even "Messiah" -- these are just some of the accolades awarded to 33-year-old Sebastian Kurz, whose place at the top of Austrian politics was confirmed in snap elections on Sunday.
Despite presiding over a period of unusual instability, the millennial leader of the centre-right People's Party (OeVP) maintained his supporter base winning 37 percent of the vote -- even if he has proved a polarising figure.
With his party winning most votes in Sunday's poll, the stage is set for the latest chapter in a meteoric rise that began when he entered government at the age of just 24, having dropped out of his law studies to focus on politics.
A few years later he had become the world's youngest elected leader at 31.
The plan surely did not include having to pull the plug on his coalition with the far-right Freedom Party (FPOe) in May over a corruption scandal, but Kurz emerged from that affair largely unscathed.
The OeVP projected results are up almost six percentage points compared to the last polls in 2017, but it remains to be seen who he will work with next.
The analyst Johannes Huber says his success is down to "his perfectly honed skill in rhetoric." And his appearance "is always impeccable".
- 'Saint Sebastian' -
The only child of a secretary and a teacher, Kurz became active in the OeVP at the age of 16.
Government posts followed, first as secretary for integration in 2011, and then as foreign minister two years later, aged 27.
Full of praise for Hungary's populist Prime Minister Viktor Orban, Kurz claimed credit for closing the Balkan migrant trail in 2016.
Surfing a wave of feeling against traditional figures in politics, in 2017 Kurz wrested control of the OeVP and transformed it into the "Liste Kurz", a movement centred around his own image.
He swiftly axed the OeVP's coalition with the centre-left Social Democrats (SPOe) and prompted a snap election in which his campaign -- as immaculate as his trademark gelled-back hair -- propelled him to the top job.
The youth and dynamism his supporters credit him with are also at the fore of an official biography whose sycophantic tone provoked a wave of mockery on social media.
Passages describing how Kurz "uttered his first words at the age of 12 months" and lauding his "bravery" as an adolescent prompted critics to dismiss it as a hagiography of "St Sebastian".
- Macron or Orban? -
However, Kurz hasn't been met with universal acclaim.
Some accused him of being a "mini-dictator" and running the OeVP as a "one-man show".
His predecessor as party leader Reinhold Mitterlehner has accused Kurz of leading Austria towards "an authoritarian democracy" and of scapegoating refugees.
That was dismissed as sour grapes from the man Kurz ousted, but others have made similar comparisons.
While some of his admirers prefer parallels with the similarly youthful French President Emmanuel Macron, his detractors see him more as a budding Orban.
Kurz's boycotting of the UN migration pact, welfare cuts for asylum seekers and a raft of other anti-migration measures have made him as divisive a figure as his Hungarian counterpart.
At the same time, he has been careful to present himself as pro-European and avoid any slips of the tongue.
The same cannot be said of his coalition partners in the FPOe.
The near constant stream of racist and anti-Semitic sentiment uncovered amongst FPOe members was a source of embarrassment for Austria abroad, and Kurz's rare interventions on the subject earned him the sobriquet the "Silent Chancellor".
Eyebrows were also raised when he described an anti-immigration alliance with the hardline interior ministers of Italy and Germany as "an axis of the willing", seemingly oblivious to the historical echo of the World War II alliance.
Nevertheless he has maintained his solid bedrock of support among older voters, with one survey putting the OeVP at a whopping 48 percent among the over-60s.
While he grew up in Vienna, Kurz has also emphasised his links to the countryside, another bedrock of OeVP votes.
"It's as if he wants to say to inhabitants of rural areas that he is one of them," Huber says.
And perhaps that he is counting on representing them in government for years to come.
© 2019 AFP