Austrian conservative set to become world’s youngest leader

Austrian conservative set to become world's youngest leader

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Media captionConservative Sebastian Kurz: the frontrunner

Austria’s conservative People’s Party (ÖVP), led by 31-year-old Sebastian Kurz, is set to win the country’s general election, projections suggest.

The victory would make Mr Kurz the world’s youngest leader.

The People’s Party was set to win 30.2%, followed by the far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ) with 26.8% and the Social Democrats with 26.3%.

Short of a majority, Mr Kurz’s party could seek an alliance with the FPÖ, which campaigned against immigration.

Immigration has been a dominant issue in the run-up to the vote, and the FPÖ is thought to have its best chance in years of returning to government.

The party narrowly missed out on the presidency in December when Norbert Hofer was defeated by Alexander Van der Bellen, head of the Greens, who won with about 53% of the votes.

The election comes amid anxiety in Europe over the huge influx of undocumented migrants and refugees in 2015, which fuelled an electoral breakthrough by the far right in neighbouring Germany last month.

Party reinvented

If the projections are correct, a political shake-up could be on the cards in Austria, the BBC’s Bethany Bell reports from Vienna.

  • Population 8.7 million

  • Area 83,871 sq km (32,383 sq miles)

  • Major language German

  • Major religion Christianity

  • Life expectancy 80 years (men), 84 years (women)

  • Currency euro

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After more than a decade in which the Social Democrats have led a coalition with the conservatives, the mood in Austria seems to be moving to the right, our correspondent says.

Mr Kurz, the outgoing foreign minister, reinvented the ÖVP after becoming leader in May, moving it rightward with promises to:

  • Shut down migrant routes to Europe
  • Cap benefit payments to refugees at a low level
  • Bar other foreigners from receiving benefits until they have lived in Austria for five years

Mr Kurz forced the snap election when he refused to continue in coalition with the Social Democrats, led by incumbent Chancellor Christian Kern.

The FPÖ has accused Mr Kurz of stealing their policies. Their candidate, Heinz-Christian Strache, has called him an “imposter”.

Opposition disarray

Mr Kern warned on Saturday that the country “was at the most important crossroads in decades”.

His own party has been struggling after several scandals including an online smear campaign against Mr Kurz.

The party’s campaign focused on economic growth, jobs and social justice.

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Image caption

FPÖ leader Heinz-Christian Strache accuses Mr Kurz of stealing his policies

After a tumultuous year with internal rifts, the pro-refugee Greens are among several smaller parties uncertain of reaching the 4% threshold required to enter parliament.

Traditionally, the winning party is tasked with forming the next government which, since the 1980s, has been a coalition.

Under the late Jörg Haider, the Freedom Party was the junior party in two coalitions with the ÖVP, between 2000 and 2007.

A note on terminology: The BBC uses the term migrant to refer to all people on the move who have yet to complete the legal process of claiming asylum. This group includes people fleeing war-torn countries such as Syria, who are likely to be granted refugee status, as well as people who are seeking jobs and better lives, who governments are likely to rule are economic migrants.

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