Austrian ex-Chancellor Sebastian Kurz is poised for a return to power, after his conservative People’s Party won a snap election Sunday that was called following the collapse of his government with the far-right Freedom Party in May.
Kurz’s party was expected to get 37.1% of the vote in parliamentary elections, a gain of 5.7 percentage points compared with 2017, according to projections based on a partial count released by public broadcaster ORF.
“Today, the people have voted us back in again,” Kurz told cheering supporters after the election. He refrained from saying which party he would seek to form a new government with.
The environmentalist Greens are one possible option. The party, which failed to enter parliament two years ago, looked set for a big comeback and were projected to get 14% of the vote. Austrians, like voters elsewhere in Europe, have expressed increasing concern over the past year about climate change, the party’s core topic.
The far-right Freedom Party was forecast to lose almost 10 percentage points and get 16%, a sign that voters were punishing the party for a leaked video that showed its long-time leader, Heinz-Christian Strache, appearing to offer favors to a purported Russian investor. The center-left Social Democrats were projected to come second with 21.8%, a loss of over 5 percentage points compared with 2017.
The Alpine country of 8.8 million has been run by a non-partisan interim administration since June, after Kurz pulled the plug on his coalition with the Freedom Party over the Strache video. The footage, published by German news outlets Der Spiegel and Sueddeutsche Zeitung, showed Strache pandering to a woman claiming to be a Russian tycoon’s niece at a boozy gathering in Ibiza two years ago.
About 6.4 million Austrians aged 16 and older were eligible to vote, with pre-election polls forecasting a strong victory for Kurz.
The 33-year-old has the option of forming a new coalition with a chastened Freedom Party or teaming up with the center-left Social Democrats, analysts said.
“To go back to the Freedom Party, in the current situation this would be very difficult,” said Peter Hajek, a political analyst.
The Freedom Party, whose anti-migrant message failed to resonate so strongly with voters this time, indicated it would prefer a spell in opposition.
Meanwhile, “the chemistry with the Social Democrats just doesn’t work,” Hajek said.
The Social Democrats, who have led many of post-World War II Austria’s governing coalitions, have failed to capitalize on the government’s collapse under leader Pamela Rendi-Wagner.
“It’s not what we hoped for. It’s not what we fought for,” she said after the party received its worst results since World War II.
A coalition between Kurz’s party and the pro-business Neos appeared unlikely after they received just 7.8% of the vote.
“Sebastian Kurz will have to disappoint some of his voters, no matter who he enters into a coalition with,” Peter Filmzmaier, a political scientist and pollster, told ORF.