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People's Party (ÖVP) led by Sebastian Kurz wins the general election in Austria

People's Party (ÖVP) led by Sebastian Kurz wins the general election in Austria

17/10/2017 - Results

The People's Party (ÖVP), led since 14th May last by the outgoing Europe, Integration and Foreign Affairs Minister, Sebastian Kurz, came out ahead in the general election on 15th October in Austria. The ÖVP won 31.5% of the vote and 61 seats (+14 in comparison with the previous election on 29th September 2013). These general elections came a year early and were triggered by Sebastian Kurz, who has brought the ten year grand coalition with the Social Democrats (SPÖ) of outgoing Chancellor Christian Kern, to an end.

The young 31 year-old leader, who in order to better convince people of his will to make changes chose to present his candidates under the banner of the Sebastian Kurz List-New People's Party, replacing the traditional black colours of the ÖVP, with turquoise, undeniably won his wager.

The populist Liberal Party (FPÖ), led by Heinz-Christian Strache, came second with 26% of the vote. It won 51 seats (+13).

The Liberal Party was followed closely by the Social Democratic Party (SPÖ), led by outgoing Chancellor Christian Kern, which won 26.9% of the vote and 52 seats (=). The Social Democrats have been weakened by the revelation of two Facebook pages put on line by the party's electoral advisor Tal Silberstein which spread false information, with aim of discrediting Sebastian Kurz. The first page entitled "The truth about Sebastian Kurz" maintained that the ÖVP leader was working for American billionaire George Soros and that he aimed to open Europe's borders to a new wave of Islamist migrants. The second page "We are with Kurz" made him out to be a spreader of hate. Although the outgoing Chancellor said that he knew nothing of this campaign to discredit Kurz, the scandal forced the Social Democrats' second in command, Georg Niedermühlbichler to resign.

NEOS/New Austria, the liberal party led by Matthias Strolz, won 5% of the vote and 9 seats. The Peter Pilz List, named by after the former ecologist MP, (he left the party on 17th July last), that is positioned centre-left, won its wager and will be making its debut in the National Council (Nationalrat), the lower house of parliament with 4.1% of the vote and 8 seats. Finally, the Greens-Alternative Green (DG), chaired since 19th May by Ingrid Felipe, but which were divided ahead of the vote, have lost their place in the lower house in which it had 24 seats: the party won 3.4% of the vote, i.e. below the minimum threshold of 4% necessary to be represented there.

Turnout was 5 points higher than the figure registered during the previous elections on 29th September 2013 - totalling 74,5%.

Results of the general elections on 15th October 2017 in AustriaSource: Home Affairs Ministry

"Voters have given us important responsibilities. We have to be aware of this and we must also be aware of the hope that we represent. There is much to be done. We have to introduce a new style of politics in Austria. I want to try with all my might to bring change to the country," declared Sebastian Kurz when the results were announced. "We shall form a coalition for the next five years with the party that will enable us to provide the country with the greatest change," indicated the ÖVP's Secretary General Elisabeth Köstinger. 

"The Austrians fear immigration and the refugee crisis. Sebastian Kurz was able to play on this fear," analyses Reinhard Heinisch, a political expert from the University of Salzburg. "Sebastian Kurz succeeded with a stroke of genius, which was both tactical and strategic. He is the representative of one of the biggest parties that have governed for several decades and he managed all the same to represent alternation," maintained Anton Pelinka, professor of political science at the University of Central Europe Budapest. "The liberal leader Heinz-Christian Strache has been on the scene for the last eleven years and can no longer continually play the provocateur. Sebastian Kurz succeeded in introducing a dose of transgression into public debate without going too far and by embodying the will for change," stressed Thibault Muzergues, European Director of International Republican Institute.

The Austrians are tired of the governments held by the grand coalition of the ÖVP and the SPÖ, and everything now points towards the return of the FPÖ to office eleven years after being thrown out. An alliance between the ÖVP and the FPÖ indeed seems to be the most likely hypothesis. Sebastian Kurz has never hidden the fact that he has sympathies with the populists, notably regarding the migratory question, and declared during his campaign that he was prepared to join forces with the FPÖ to win a majority in Parliament. "An alliance with the far right is the only alternative to a grand coalition. A left of centre majority has never existed in Austria," declared Laurenz Ennser-Jedenastik, a political expert at the University of Vienna.

The ÖVP governed with the FPÖ between 2000 and 2006 under the leadership of Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel (ÖVP). The European Union then hit Austria with unprecedented political sanctions in a bid to isolate the populist party, led by Jörg Haider at the time, whose members had been appointed to the positions of Vice-Chancellor, Finance Minister, Defence Minister, Transport and Infrastructures Minister, Social Affairs Ministers, as well as Secretary State for Health and Tourism. For seven months the Austrian government and the country's diplomats were isolated until the other Member States realised the unproductive nature of the sanctions and decided to lift them on 14th September 2000. Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel succeeded in transforming the EU's ostracism into a political advantage, rallying all Austrians behind his government.

FPÖ leader Heinz Christian Strache said that for his party he would claim several ministries including that of Home and also Foreign Affairs.

Born in 1986 and from Vienna, Sebastian Kurz joined the People's Party (ÖVP) when he was 16. In 2009, he gave up his law studies to take the leadership of the party's youth section. The following year he was elected town councillor of Vienna. In April 2011 he became Secretary of State for Integration. He entered Parliament with the elections of 29th September 2013 and was appointed Europe, Integration and Foreign Affairs Minister in the government led by Werner Faymann (SPÖ), who was replaced by Christian Kern in 2016.

After the general elections on 15th October 2017 the man people like to call the Milchbubi (Baby Face) or Wunderwuzzi (Wonder Hotshot) is about to become the youngest chancellor in Austria's history and more widely the youngest leader in Europe.

Critical of the open-door policy undertaken by German Chancellor Angela Merkel (Christian Democratic Union, CDU) in 2015 and also the agreement between the EU and Turkey over the migrants, against European distribution of migrants and the introduction of a community asylum policy, Sebastian Kurz, who is the representative of the right-wing of the People's Party (ÖVP), supports a toughening of his country's migratory policy. He has said that he wanted to reduce the aid given to refugees. At present each person who gets asylum in Austria receives around 850€ per month. Kurz wants to reduce this to 560€. He hopes to bring economic migration to an end and to increase controls on the EU's external borders. He wants to close the Balkans route, used by migrants arriving from Greece. He also hopes to end EU membership negotiations with Turkey.

Once the final results are released Austrian Head of State Alexander van der Bellen will ask Sebastian Kurz to start negotiations in view of forming a stable government.
Publishing Director: Pascale JOANNIN
The author
Corinne Deloy
Author of the European Elections Monitor (EEM) for the Robert Schuman Foundation and project manager at the Institute for Political Studies (Sciences Po).
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