Austria’s right-leaning parties won big in the country’s legislative elections on Sunday.
The conservative People’s Party (OVP) came first with 31.4% of the vote. It was followed by the nationalist Freedom Party (FPO) with 27.4% and the centre-right Social Democratic Party (SPO) with 26.7%, according to preliminary results from the country’s interior ministry.
The OVP, which came second in the last elections in 2013, is about 30 seats away from a parliamentary majority, according to current estimates. It’s widely believed that it will form a coalition with the FPO, which would pave the way to a right-wing, heavily anti-immigrant Austrian parliament.
If the results are confirmed, then 31-year-old OVP leader Sebastian Kurz will become the Austrian Chancellor and the world’s youngest national leader. Scroll down to learn more about him.
This is 31-year-old Sebastian Kurz, the leader of Austria’s conservative People’s Party, also known as the OVP.
He’s also currently the country’s foreign minister, having been appointed at 27. Here he is with then-US Secretary of State John Kerry in October 2015.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (L) and Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz shake hands before a meeting in Vienna, Austria, October 29, 2015. Picture taken October 29, 2015. REUTERS/Brendan Smialowski/Pool
He took over the OVP leadership this May, aged just 30 at the time.
He was appointed acting party leader in May after former chairman and Austrian Chancellor Reinhold Mitterlehner stepped down, and formally elected leader with 98.7% of the votes at a party convention in July, Politico reported. The same convention also voted to give more power to the party leader.
After becoming leader, Kurz changed the OVP’s official colour from black to greenish-blue.
He has repeatedly vowed to shake up Austrian politics — but it’s unclear what that means right now.
Political analyst Thomas Hofer also said Kurz’s vows to shake up Austrian politics were a “massive contradiction.”
He told Reuters: “The OVP has been in government for more than 30 years running and its posters say ‘Time for something new.’ It’s a massive contradiction but with Kurz it works.”
Kurz has been referred to as the OVP’s “Wunderkind” (“wonder child”) or “Wunderwuzzi” (“wonder hotshot”).
He’s also been compared to other charismatic political leaders such as Canada’s Justin Trudeau and France’s Emmanuel Macron, the BBC reported.
And like Macron, Kurz has focused on personality politics rather than party politics in this election. He informally renamed his party list in this year’s elections the “Sebastian Kurz List,” the Washington Post said.
According to Austrian journalist Gernot Bauer, Kurz is “like a pop star.” According to NPR, he said: “He’s like Justin Bieber, it takes hours [and] people want to make selfies with him. I think 20 percent of his campaign was just making photos and selfies.”
Here he is with his girlfriend, Susanne Thier. She reportedly works for Austria’s finance ministry.
Kurz anti-immigration stance has been so radical, and his speeches so inflammatory, that the nationalist FPO party accused him of plagiarism.
Kurz said in June that he wanted to abolish Muslim kindergartens, saying they helped pave the way to “parallel societies” incompatible with that of Austria. The FPO said it made the same demand for years but that Kurz did not have the “will and courage” to carry it out, Reuters reported.
As OVP leader, Kurz has also promised to stem migration from the Middle East and Africa. After some 1.3 million refugees and migrants entered Europe to seek asylum in 2015, Austria — which accepted 90,000 migrants that year — told the European Union it did not want to take any more refugees and migrants, the Telegraph reported.
Kurz said in July, as cited by Politico: “We know what needs to be done… The Mediterranean Sea route must be closed, better today than tomorrow.”
Political analyst Thomas Hofer told Reuters: “He [Kurz] says a lot of similar things to [FPO leader Heinz-Christian] Strache and the FPO but in a more socially acceptable way.”
In fact, Kurz is so keen on talking about immigration issues that one of his opponents accused him of pivoting to that topic whenever he could.
According to Reuters, Austrian Greens leader Ulrike Lunacek told Kurz during a debate: “It’s really remarkable. On every issue you manage to change the subject immediately to refugees and political Islam.”
Short of a parliamentary majority, the OVP needs to form a coalition with another party.
According to the Austrian Interior Ministry’s preliminary results on Monday, the OVP has won 61 of the National Council’s 183 available seats.
While the OVP is currently in a grand coalition with the SPO, the two parties are unlikely to partner again after Kurz effectively tore up the grand coalition deal earlier this year, and a series of campaign scandals soured their relationship.
In May, Kurz effectively dissolved the OVP-SPO coalition, paving the way to Sunday’s legislative elections that came a year earlier than expected, according to the FT.
In late September, Austrian magazine Profil reported that Tal Silberstein, a former SPO election adviser, had helped set up two Facebook pages that smeared Kurz, exaggerated Kurz’s views on immigration, and published anti-Semitic content.
Silberstein also claimed that an OVP aide attempted to get him to switch sides to the OVP with €100,000 (£89,000/$118,000) in cash. The OVP denied the accusation and said earlier this month that it would sue Silberstein for libel, Reuters reported.
Instead, the OVP is widely expected to form a coalition with the FPO.
The World Jewish Congress on Sunday called the election results “sad and distressing” and called on Kurz not to partner up with the FPO.
“It is sad and distressing that such a platform should receive more than a quarter of the vote and become the country’s second party,” World Jewish Congress leader Ronald Lauder wrote in a statement, as cited by Bloomberg. “My only hope is that they won’t end up in government.”
The statement also warned that the FPO “is still full of xenophobes and racists and is, mildly put, very ambiguous toward Austria’s Nazi past,” according to the New York Times.
Frauke Petry, the former leader of Germany’s nationalist Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) party, tweeted her congratulations to Austria.
Kurz, however, has declined to name a coalition partner and said he would wait until final election results came in before negotiating with other parties, the New York Times said.
More detailed results of the election will be announced on Thursday, and the full official result will be declared on October 31, according to CNN.