Ballot projections showed the party of Austria’s 31-year old foreign minister placing first in a national election Sunday, putting him on course to become Europe’s youngest head of government.
Projections from the SORA polling organization had the People’s Party led by Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz receiving 30.5 percent of the vote and the euroskeptic Freedom Party 25.9 percent. Both parties focused their campaigns on concerns about immigration and Islam.
The center-left Social Democrats, who campaigned on the need for social equality, were projected to come in second with 27.1 percent.
While the projections were based on incomplete results, they could herald a coalition between the People’s and Freedom parties that would mean a rightward turn for Austria. The parties have called for securing Austria’s borders and quickly deporting asylum-seekers whose requests are denied.
The country now is governed by a coalition made up of the Social Democrats and the People’s Party.
Much of the People’s Party’s appeal has been credited to Kurz, the foreign minister. Since taking the helm in the spring amid growing strains within the governing Social Democratic-People’s Party coalition, he moved his center-right party further to the right, particularly on the issues of migration and Muslims.
But he avoids the inflammatory rhetoric of the right-wing Freedom Party and its head, Heinz-Christian Strache.
That made Kurz’s party appealing to voters who are uncomfortable with the Freedom Party but sensitive about immigration as large numbers of mostly Muslim migrants have entered Europe since 2015
Strache modified the tone of his message and the party is keen on shedding its past links to anti-Semitism. But it continues to attract a small neo-Nazi fringe.
Kurz, greeting supporters as he cast his ballot, said he hoped for “a good result, so that real change can be possible.”
Expressing optimism at another polling station, Social Democratic Chancellor Christian Kern said “we are planning a longer party.”
Strache voiced optimism for “a good result and the chance for real change.”
Left-leaning President Alexander Van der Bellen, who narrowly defeated a Freedom Party candidate in elections last year, said he “puts great value on pro-European government.”
Van der Bellen must swear in any new government and a strong showing by the Freedom Party and the People’s Party would make a ruling coalition between them likely.
More than 6.4 million Austrians were eligible to vote. Final results weren’t expected until later this coming week, when the last of the absentee ballots and ballots cast at polling stations outside a voter’s district are counted.