Conservative Kurz, 31, on track to be Austrian leader

Casey Dawson
October 16, 2017

With over a half of the total ballots counted, Sebastian Kurz's party has taken a lead in the election with over 30 percent of votes cast.

The leader of the right-leaning People's Party has declared victory in the Austrian national election.

Foreign Minister Kurz propelled his party to the top of opinion polls when he became leader in May, dislodging the far-right FPO that had led for a year.

Sunday's election was widely watched across Europe, where there has been a rise of populist far-right parties, many of which have campaigned on anti-immigration platforms.

A result in line with the party's best, the near-27 percent of the vote it received in 1999 under former leader, the late Jorg Haider, would be a "pleasant surprise", he said.

But the OVP is well short of a majority and could seek an alliance with the far right. It is so far unclear whether the Social Democrats or the far-right Freedom Party will finish second.

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In a campaign dominated by migration, Kurz has pledged to shut down the main migrant routes, through the Balkans and the Mediterranean, into Europe. According to some of the polls, FPOe is expected to gain many votes in the election, becoming either the second or third largest party. Mr Kurz plans to cap benefits for refugees at well below the general level and bar other foreigners from receiving such payments until they have lived in the country for five years.

Austria was governed by a coalition led by Chancellor Kern's SPO and Kurz's OVP, but that partnership collapsed in May, prompting a snap vote. Most reliable candidate for this job is called 31-year-old Kurtz.

Open dislike between ex-railway chief Christian Kern, 51, who gave his party fresh hope when he became chancellor in May 2016, and Kurz also makes any new attempt at ruling together seem unlikely.

Experts say a right-wing government could turn Austria into a tricky partner for the EU.

"But the question is whether there is any getting around Strache after this election".

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