VIENNA (Reuters) - Austria’s electoral system makes it difficult for any one party to obtain a majority, and the winner of Sunday’s parliamentary election will probably need to form a coalition to govern.
Support for the frontrunner, the conservative People’s Party led by Sebastian Kurz, running at about 33 percent. A coalition between two of the three largest parties is the most likely outcome. Several smaller parties are polling at around 6 percent or lower.
The 31-year-old foreign minister expects to lead his party to victory and has avoided committing himself to anything other than holding talks with all sides after the election.
He has campaigned on a platform of ending the old compromises of centrist coalitions with the Social Democrats, suggesting he might lean toward the Freedom Party.
But he has also said there could be leadership changes within the losing parties after the election, which could be a hint at a tie-up with the Social Democrats under a new chief. He has repeatedly praised SPO Defence Minister Hans-Peter Doskozil.
The former head of the national rail company has been chancellor for less than 18 months and already cuts an embattled figure, his party having been involved in a smear scandal it blames on an adviser he hired.
A poor showing on Sunday could put his position at risk. He and Kurz can barely hide their contempt for each other, making it unlikely they would work together. He and Heinz-Christian Strache of the Freedom Party have had some cordial head-to-head debates, though Kern says their parties are still “worlds apart”.
HEINZ-CHRISTIAN STRACHE, FREEDOM PARTY (FPO)
The trained dental technician who has headed the far-right Freedom Party for more than a decade has cut an unusually relaxed figure this election, perhaps because he and his party have a good chance of being kingmaker.
He has praised Kern for a more open approach to dealing with him and he has led a campaign that has kept his options open, railing against immigration but also calling for social “fairness”, a core issue for the center left.
Kurz has accused the FPO and the Social Democrats of holding early talks on forming a coalition, but Strache is a political veteran who is eager to become vice chancellor and is likely to seek real concessions before forming an alliance.
Doskozil shot to fame in 2015 as a provincial police chief who oversaw Austria’s biggest influx of people during Europe’s migration crisis. He was soon appointed defense minister and made his party’s pointman on immigration.
Doskozil has taken a tougher stance on securing the country’s borders, prompting a diplomatic spat with Italy but earning praise from both Strache and Kurz.
He is also from the eastern province of Burgenland, where his party and the FPO share power. He would be a strong contender to take over the party leadership if Kern were weakened, though he would most likely be opposed by the party’s left wing, based in the SPO stronghold of “Red Vienna”.
The former Greens leader won a close-fought election against an opponent from the Freedom Party and has said he would seek to prevent Strache from becoming chancellor. He has since rowed back, saying he would merely want any government to be pro-European.
What that means for Strache is unclear. His party calls for Brussels to transfer power to member states and says a currency union only makes sense between countries with similar economies.
As head of state Van der Bellen has the power to appoint and dismiss governments, and presidents have previously played a crucial role in forming coalitions.
(For a graphic on Austrian parliamentary election, click tmsnrt.rs/2hKIi65)
Reporting by Kirsti Knolle and Francois Murphy; Editing by Alison Williams