VIENNA (Reuters) - Young conservative star Sebastian Kurz is on track to become Austria’s next leader, projections of Sunday’s parliamentary election result showed, but his party is well short of a majority and could seek an alliance with the far right.
Kurz, who is just 31, campaigned on an anti-immigration platform so strict that the far-right Freedom Party (FPO) accused him of plagiarism. That appears to have succeeded in drawing some voters away from the FPO two years after Austria was swept up in Europe’s migration crisis, which boosted the FPO in polls.
Kurz’s People’s Party (OVP) is in the lead on 30.5 percent, with its current coalition partner, the Social Democrats, on 26.2 percent, just behind the FPO on 26.8 percent, a projection by pollster SORA said shortly after polls closed, based on an early count of 49 percent of non-postal ballots.
The projection had a margin of error of 2.2 percentage points. It will be refreshed and become more precise as more ballots are counted throughout the evening. Another projection by pollster ARGE Wahlen also showed the OVP in the lead.
Kurz, named party leader only in May, has been careful to keep his coalition options open, but he called an end to the current alliance with the Social Democrats and pledged to shake up Austrian politics, which for decades has been dominated by coalitions between those two parties.
While that would suggest he will turn to the anti-Islam FPO, he has also said there could be leadership changes within the losing parties, a possible hint at being willing to work with the Social Democrats if Chancellor Christian Kern were ousted as leader by Defense Minister Hans Peter Doskozil.
The Social Democrats (SPO) have also opened the door to forming coalitions with the FPO, meaning the far-right party is placed to be kingmaker and play the two parties off each other during coalition talks. It is highly unlikely, however, that the Social Democrats would ally with the FPO if the SPO came third.
Reporting by Francois Murphy, Shadia Nasralla and Kirsti Knolle, Editing by Michael Shields