By Peter H. Salus
Editor’s Note: Peter H. Salus writes for LR Net about national and international issues. He is currently providing us with the grim details of this week’s election in Austria which brought to power yet another Trump-like regime.
On Sunday, 15 October 2017, Austria held an election.
As I write, it appears that Sebastian Kurz of the Austrian People’s Party (OVP) will become Chancellor. He is 31 years old and will thus become the youngest leader of a European country. The People’s Party is also quite far right.
Kurz will most likely form a coalition government with the far-right Freedom Party of Austria (FPO), which appears likely to edge the Social Democratic Party (SPO) into third place. However, the FPO leader Heinz-Christian Strache has accused Kurz of copying his policies and of being an “impersonator”. The FPO and the OVP shared power from 2000 to 2007, but the OVP and the SPO have rule in a coalition since then. Kurz smashed that when he became party leader earlier this year, precipitating this election.
Immigration was the dominant issue in the run-up to the vote, and Mr Kurz moved his party to the right in the wake of Europe’s 2015 refugee crisis.
He appealed to conservative and right-wing voters with pledges to shut down migrant routes to Europe, cap benefit payments to refugees, and bar immigrants from receiving benefits until they have lived in Austria for five years.
The OVP has also pledged to close Muslim nurseries, which has been a flagship policy of the anti-Islam FPO.
On Friday Mr Strache said: “In parts of society we are becoming a minority in our own country. Let’s get rid of this… government before the Austrian people disappear.”
Christian Kern, the incumbent SPO chancellor, has warned that Austria “is at the most important crossroads in decades”.
“Do we want an Austria where the rich get richer and where the social security system, health and education are under attack? Or an Austria where everybody has an opportunity?” he told a rally on Saturday.
The voters responded.
As I write, the OVP has 30.5%, the SPO has 26.9, the FPO 26, and the Green 3.9%. This last is a true shock. For several decades, the Austrian Green has been the strongest Green party in Europe. No more. And a completely new entity, the Peter Pilz List, is set to enter parliament for the first time with 8 seats.
PILZ takes its name from Green Party parliamentarian Peter Pilz, who founded the list in July.
Candidates are taken from the worlds of music, law and the arts, and includes politicians formerly from other parties. It is heavily critical of the establishment.
Were the FPO to pull ahead of the SPO, it is unclear what will happen. Kurz detests Kern, and might well opt to form a coalition with the third-place OVP.
While anti-Islam and anti-immigration, Kurz is far from the ignorance of Trump. He is quite definitely internationalist, but feels the EU should meddle less in its members’ internal activities.