Posted by on October 15, 2017 2:06 pm
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Categories: Afghanistan Austrian People's Party Christian Kern Economy European Union federal government FPÖ france German nationalism in Austria germany Heinz-Christian Strache Iraq KIM National liberalism Netherlands Politics Sebastian Kurz Social Democrats Social Issues SS unemployment

The front runner in Austria’s Sunday election ended his campaign with a familiar message : Sebastian Kurz pledged to make Austria great again. He is set to become the world’s youngest leader, ahead of France’s Emmanuel Macron, who is 39… oh and North Korea’s 34-year-old Kim Jong-un, of course.

“I want to put Austria back on top,” he told an adoring crowd in Wiener Neustadt according to the Telegraph. “I want to provide security and order, because the Austrian people deserve it.”

Sebastian Kurz

Austrians are voting Sunday in the country’s National Council elections, where according to recent polls the country’s 6.4 million voters are likely to ditch the current coalition in favor of a new government backed by anti-immigration nationalists and headed by a 31-year-old Millennial.

Ahead of today’s election results, the conservative candidate of the Austrian People’s Party (OVP), 31-year-old Sebastian Kurz, is leading the polls with Social Democratic Party (SPO) and the right-wing anti-immigrant Freedom Party (FPO) battling to secure second place. Polls suggest Kurz will lead his conservative People’s Party to victory in Sunday’s election: a victory by the millennial could lead to the unwind of a decade of Social Democratic-led administrations “that revived the economy but struggled with issues over immigration and welfare” and result in the anti-immigrant Freedom Party becoming a part of the coalition government for the first time in history.

To his supporters, Kurz is Austria’s Macron: a one-man political phenomenon who is the only thing standing between the country’s resurgent nationalists and power. But to his detractors he is the Austrian Trump, who has hijacked one of the country’s two main parties and refashioned it in his own image. His critics say he is only holding the populists back by adopting their anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies.

After a surge of support for populist candidates in elections this year in the Netherlands, France and Germany, Austria looks like it will go one further and elect an anti-immigration alliance. The biggest winner will be the aspiring 31-year-old Kurz, who has been Austria’s Minister for Foreign Affairs and Integration since 2013, and who is leading his political campaign along the center-right principles which seem to exploit the refugee issue.

Sebastian Kurz, 31, Austria’s foreign minister and leader of the People’s Party,
greets supporters during his final campaign event in Vienna on Oct. 13

A recent survey by Meinungsraum conducted for GMX.at shows that FPO might secure around 28.5% of the vote, followed by OVP with 26.5%. SPO is expected to attract roughly 20% of the vote. Another poll by Research Affairs/Österreich predicts OVP to secure around 33% of the vote. FPO is predicted to come in second with around 27% , followed by SPO with 23% of the vote.

“People are worried about the future and that is the currency that matters in this election,” said Christoph Hofinger, head of the SORA polling institute in Vienna. “The debate is revolving around the issue of fairness, and a lot is also linked to migration.”

Back in May, Kurz called for a snap election amid tensions with coalition partner, the Social Democrats. The young politician previously backed plans to block refugee routes into Europe and supported a ban on full-face veils. He also supports cracking down on radical Islam, echoing FPO sentiments and luring in nationalist voters.

For the past two years, the issue of how to deal with the influx of migrants has been among the most sensitive in Austrian society. The swell of anxiety over immigration to Austria began building 2015, when almost 70,000 mostly-Muslim refugees sought asylum from war-torn countries such as Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq. Schools and hospitals in the nation of 8.7 million struggled to accommodate the newcomers, and disagreements over whether it was fair to give immigrants generous welfare support dominate the media.

As a result, voters have gravitated toward promises by both the People’s Party and Freedom to limit the number of immigrants Austria receives and force newcomers to adapt local customs more quickly.

Leading FPO candidate Heinz-Christian Strache gained massive support ahead of the election by focusing on the country’s immigration policies and on issues such as unemployment, minimum wage and pensions. The party, founded by a former Nazi SS member after the end of the World War II, stuck the nerve of the electorate by proposing to stop immigration and by speaking out against Islam. The FPO support grew to unprecedented levels following EU-wide ‘Open Door’ migrant policy championed by Germany in wake of 2015 refugee crisis.

While the biggest number of migrants was welcomed by Berlin, Austria received nearly 150,000 asylum requests since 2015. Comprising just over 1 percent of the population, their presence in the country became the number one debated issue in the election.

Meanwhile, the incumbent chancellor of Austria and chairman of the Social Democratic Party, Christian Kern, is virtually assured to lose his place as the head of the government. Unlike his rivals, Kern advocates a much softer stand on migration, instead placing emphasis on employment and the economy. Kern, 51, a former business executive plucked from the national railroad by the Social Democrats in May 2016, has been dogged by sloppy campaign management. Despite overseeing faster growth in the export-oriented economy, Kern has struggled to connect with voters. His No. 1 goal is achieving full employment, since “modernizing the country with investment in education, security, health care and pensions” depends on it, Kern said late Thursday in the campaign’s final debate.

“Austria deserves someone who is ready to take on real responsibility for the population,” Strache said in a parliamentary speech this week, in which he chided Kern for letting thousands of refugees enter Austria, transported on the national railroad he ran before becoming chancellor.

Regardless of performance in Sunday’s election, the three main parties must work together to form a new coalition government. Neither the OVP nor the SPO has ruled out a coalition with the FPO, which may play the role of the kingmaker at the end of the day since as the revival of OVP/ SPO coalition seems unlikely. Other parties such as the liberal NEOS (The New Austria and Liberal Forum) and the Greens are expected to secure single digits.

Compared with 10 years ago, more Austrians say they feel like they’re not being heard and are in search of law-and-order leadership, a SORA institute study showed. More than two-fifths of voters declared their desire for a “strongman” leader, according to the research, periodically commissioned by the federal government to gauge public attitudes and consciousness about the country’s Nazi history.

Step forward Kurz, the foreign minister who’s distanced himself from the People’s Party’s leadership and forged similar views with Freedom’s Strache on immigration. Both men want to restrict immigrant access to Austria’s social-security system and impose tighter policing on the country’s borders. The Freedom Party came within 30,000 votes of winning the presidency, a mostly ceremonial post, in a run-off vote last year.

In Austria, anyone over the age of 16 is eligible to vote in roughly 13,000 voting locations throughout the Alpine nation. There are about 6.4 million voters, and those who cast their ballots will decide 183 contested seats at the National Council.

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