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Austria - 2017 Election National Council

Sebastian Kurz, Austria's foreign minister, took over as leader of the country's main conservative party on 14 May 2017 and called for a snap parliamentary election that center-left Chancellor Christian Kern admitted he could not prevent. Kern's Social Democrats, or SPO, and Sebastian Kurz's conservative People's Party, or OVP, were coalition partners and had dominated Austrian politics for decades, but are now at daggers drawn. An early election would give the far-right Freedom Party, or FPO, currently leading in opinion polls, a good chance of entering national government less than a year after its candidate lost a presidential runoff. However, some surveys suggested the OVP would leap from third to first place if the 30-year-old Kurz, who takes a tough stance on immigration, became its leader. Forming a government in Austria usually requires at least two parties.

Campaigning focused on migration, notably the 2015 migration crisis that polarized European politics. That year, Austria was used as a gateway for nearly 900,000 migrants making their way to Germany. It also received more than 68,000 application for asylum in 2015, one of the highest proportions on the continent compared to the population. While the center-left SP campaigned on a track-record of lowering unemployment and economic growth, Kurz's VP promised to prevent a repeat of 2015's wave of migration and cut access to social welfare benefits for newcomers for at least five years.

Kurz replaced the VP on the ballot with the "Sebastian Kurz List." Though all the candidates on the list are backed by the VP, it nevertheless gives the impression that he has renamed a major political party after himself. Kurz also caused a stir with some of his hardline political positions, such as calls to strengthen the EU's outer borders and end NGO rescues of refugees in the Mediterranean Sea - prompting Germany's conservative Die Welt newspaper to accuse the politician of being "hard-hearted."

"He is a power-hungry neoliberal," one young voter in Vienna who asked not to be named told DW. "What does he want? The Hapsburg empire back again? ..... He's also cultivated an image as a political outsider, despite having been foreign minister for four years."

At age 31, Sebastian Kurz became Austria's next chancellor after his People's Party won the most votes in parliamentary elections 15 October 2017. The VP was set to lead parliament with at least 62 seats. The People's Party (VP) won 31.6 percent of the vote in parliamentary elections, marking a major victory for the 31-year-old, according to the latest vote count.

The far-right Freedom Party was key to his government. The far-right, anti-immigration Austrian Freedom Party (FP) came in third place with 25.9 percent, amounting to 51 seats. Both parties campaigned on tougher immigration controls, speedier deportations of failed asylum seekers and a crackdown on radical Islam.

The center-left Social Democratic Party (SP) managed to garner 27.1 percent, placing them in second with 53 seats.

The right coalition Kurz's VP was expected to form a government with the far-right FP, after he ended the grand coalition government with the center-left SP in May 2017. It marked the first time the far-right party entered government since 2000. The coalition deal brought the Freedom Party into government for the first time in twelve years after it secured third place in the election on a hardline immigration stance. It was the junior coalition partner in 1986-87 and 2000-05.

The new chancellor, 31-year-old Sebastian Kurz, gave his right-wing Freedom Party (FPO) partners key appointments in the new cabinet on 15 December 2017. It signalled a significant shift to the right. People's Party (OVP) leader Sebastian Kurz will become the next chancellor and coalition partner Freedom Party (FPO) head Heinz-Christian Strache became vice-chancellor in the new Austrian government. Strache was also minister for sports and public servants. Five other ministries went to Strache's Freedom Party. They included the key interior, defense and foreign ministries. Kurz's People's Party will had seven ministers and one deputy. They included the finance, economy and justice ministries.




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