The party of former Chancellor Sebastian Kurz won Austria’s snap election Sunday, paving the way for his return as the country’s leader.
As widely expected, Kurz’s center-right Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) came in first with 37 percent, according to exit polls as of 6 p.m. It’s a clear victory for the 33-year-old ex-chancellor, with the Social Democrats coming a distant second at 21.8 percent.
The People’s Party election headquarters erupted in jubilant applause and chants of “Chancellor Kurz” after the first exit polls were published shortly after polls closed at 5 p.m. “Today is the day of Sebastian Kurz,” Karl Nehammer, the party’s secretary-general, told public broadcaster ORF.
Kurz’s former partners in government, the far-right Freedom Party, suffered heavy losses in the election following a scandal earlier this year, falling to 16 percent — down 10 percentage points from the last election in 2017.
The second winners of Sunday’s vote were the Austrian Greens. Boosted by growing concerns about climate change, they returned to parliament with 14 percent of the vote after falling below the threshold needed to win seats in 2017, meaning a two-party coalition with the People’s Party would be possible. The liberal NEOS party, meanwhile, came in fifth with 7.8 percent.
The People’s Party-Freedom Party coalition led by Kurz collapsed earlier this year over the so-called Ibiza scandal, triggered by a video appearing to show Heinz-Christian Strache — then the Freedom Party’s leader — attempting to trade public contracts for campaign support from a woman he thought to be a wealthy Russian.
The far-right party then joined the Social Democrats in a no-confidence vote that brought down Kurz as chancellor in late May. Austria has since been governed by a technocratic interim government, under the leadership of senior judge Brigitte Bierlein, the first woman to become chancellor.
Far from harming Kurz, the scandal and the coalition’s subsequent collapse appeared to boost support for his party, rising from 31.5 percent in the 2017 general election to 34.5 percent in this year’s European Parliament election, which took place just a week after the Ibiza scandal broke.
Four months later, the People’s Party’s numbers have risen even higher, despite several accusations of misconduct during the campaign, allegations that ranged from the shredding of hard drives to creative accounting and hidden donations. (The party denies any wrongdoing.)
The Freedom Party, on the other hand, did lose support — falling from 26 percent in 2017 to 17 percent in the European election and 16 percent on Sunday, though not enough to seriously damage the party. A return to government remains a possibility, with Kurz signaling during the campaign that he was open to another coalition with the far right.
Current estimates give the People’s Party 71 seats in Austria’s 183-seat parliament, while the Freedom Party is expected to score 30 seats.
Kurz’s coalition options other than the far right include forming an alliance with the Social Democrats, who are set to win 42 seats — the worst result in the party’s post-war history. He could also form a government with the Greens (26 seats).