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Austrian coalition talks set to begin, far right likely partner
October 20, 2017 / 12:01 PM / a month ago

Austrian coalition talks set to begin, far right likely partner

VIENNA (Reuters) - Austria’s president gave the green light to conservative leader Sebastian Kurz on Friday to form a government, but Kurz gave little away about his coalition plans, leaving a tie-up with the far right the most likely outcome.

Austria's President Alexander Van der Bellen and leader of the People's Party (OeVP) Sebastian Kurz shake hands after a media statement in Vienna, Austria, October 20, 2017. REUTERS/Heinz-Peter Bader

Kurz’s People’s Party (OVP) secured 31.5 percent of the vote in Sunday’s parliamentary election, winning by a clear margin but falling well short of the majority needed to control parliament in the affluent Alpine republic.

“I would like to build a government that has the courage and determination to bring real change to Austria,” Kurz, 31, told reporters after meeting President Alexander Van der Bellen, who will oversee the process.

Kurz campaigned on a platform that combined a hard line on immigration similar to that of the far-right Freedom Party (FPO) with traditional conservative principles like slimming down the state and cutting taxes.

He said he would start by holding talks with all parties in parliament although only two of them, the Social Democrats (SPO) and FPO, have enough seats to give him a majority if they go into coalition with the OVP.

“I will now get straight to work and hold the first discussions, definitely in the coming days, and possibly even today,” Kurz said, adding that after those initial discussions he might launch formal coalition talks with one party.

Kurz went to Brussels on Thursday to assure European Union leaders of his support, allaying concerns that Austria country would become a dissonant voice in the EU with the anti-immigrant far right likely to enter its government.

It became clear after neighboring Germany’s election last month that it was headed towards a three-way “Jamaica” coalition - so called because the parties’ colors match that country’s flag. Austria’s political future could be colorful too.

Using the same principle and some creative licence, Austria’s next government could be dubbed “Botswana” or “Islamic State”. Two other options, “Haiti” and “Albania”, appear to be off the table, at least for the time being.

Austria's President Alexander Van der Bellen receives leader of the People's Party (OeVP) Sebastian Kurz at his office in Vienna, Austria, October 20, 2017. REUTERS/Heinz-Peter Bader

THOUSANDTH OF A THOUSANDTH

In Austria as in Germany, each party is traditionally associated with a color - black for Kurz’s OVP, red for the centre-left SPO and blue for the far-right FPO.

Botswana (black and blue) remains the most likely option, given that Kurz and the head of the Social Democrats, outgoing Chancellor Christian Kern, have often clashed and Kurz called an end to their coalition, forcing Sunday’s snap election.

Slideshow (3 Images)

Kurz has said he would prefer to form a stable coalition but not ruled out a minority, monochrome government (Islamic State).

He has accused his rivals of holding talks on an SPO-FPO, “red-blue” coalition (Haiti). But FPO leader Heinz-Christian Strache poured cold water on the idea of a “coalition of losers” in an interview with tabloid Oesterreich.

Asked if Kern had been voted out as chancellor, Strache said: “In my opinion, yes.” He added that people had voted for change and Kurz had a mandate to try and form a government.

“If he were to invite us (to hold coalition talks), we would accept the invitation,” he said, adding that in such a case the FPO would not hold parallel talks with the SPO.

Strache hosted Kurz at his home for dinner this week, their first one-on-one meeting, he said.

The chances of a red-blue alliance are “a thousandth of a thousandth”, Kern told reporters at an EU summit in Brussels, but he added that his party was still open to talks.

A black-red coalition (Albania) has not been completely ruled out. Kurz has hinted at being prepared to consider it if Kern is replaced as leader by Defense Minister Hans Peter Doskozil. Strache also focused his criticism on Kern rather than the SPO as a whole.

writing by Francois Murphy; editing by Mark Heinrich

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