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Ex-chancellor Kurz tops exit polls in Austria snap poll

His party is expected to get 37.1% of the vote in parliamentary elections.

Sebastian Kurz (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)
Sebastian Kurz (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)

By Philipp Jenne and Frank Jordans, Associated Press

Austrian ex-chancellor Sebastian Kurz is poised for a return to power after his conservative People’s Party won a snap election called after the collapse of his coalition with the far-right Freedom Party in May.

His party is 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,” Mr Kurz told cheering supporters after the election. He refrained from saying which party he would seek to form a new government with.

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Supporters of Sebastian Kurz celebrate in Vienna (Michael Sohn/AP)

The environmentalist Greens are one possible option. The party, which failed to enter parliament two years ago, look set for a big comeback and are 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 is forecast to lose almost 10 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 favours to a purported Russian investor.

The centre-left Social Democrats were projected to come second with 21.8%, a loss of over 5 points compared with 2017.

The Alpine country of 8.8 million has been run by a non-partisan interim administration since June, after Mr 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 Mr 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 Mr Kurz.

The 33-year-old has the option of forming a new coalition with a chastened Freedom Party or teaming up with the centre-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 as strongly with voters this time, indicated it would prefer a spell in opposition.

Meanwhile, “the chemistry with the Social Democrats just doesn’t work”, Mr Hajek said.

The Social Democrats, who have led many of post-war Austria’s governing coalitions, have failed to capitalise 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 had its worst result since the Second World War.

A coalition between Mr Kurz’s party and the pro-business Neos appeared unlikely after they got just 7.8% of the vote.

PA

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