VIENNA—Austrian conservative leader Sebastian Kurz triumphed in Sunday’s parliamentary election while the scandal-tainted Freedom Party (FPO) took a beating and the Greens gained ground, leaving Kurz the option of forming a coalition with either of them.
The election followed the collapse in May of Kurz’s coalition with the right-wing Freedom Party after a video sting scandal forced FPO Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache to step down.
Kurz, 33, emerged largely unscathed from the scandal, even siphoning off voters from the FPO as further allegations surfaced last week over lavish and possibly fraudulent expenses Strache claimed from the party. Strache denies wrongdoing.
As suggested by opinion polls for months, Kurz’s People’s Party (OVP) came a comfortable first, with 37.1 percent of the vote, according to a projection by pollster SORA for national broadcaster ORF based on a count of all but postal ballots.
“It was a difficult four months and now the population has voted us back in,” Kurz told his supporters, without indicating what his coalition preference might be.
Kurz said he will initially hold talks with all parties in parliament and has not ruled out any options.
His choices in forming a government are to ally again with the FPO, with the Greens, in a three-way tie-up with the pro-business, liberal Neos, or form a coalition with the left-wing Social Democrats, although under their current leadership, that would be unlikely.
Rekindling a relationship with the FPO—which has been dubbed the “Ibiza coalition” by Kurz’s critics—would be easy for Kurz, and they would have a majority. But given the unresolved scandals involving the FPO, it may not be looked well upon by some Austrians.
“I’m not so sure about the blues (FPO), because there are so many browns (Nazis or National Socialists) among them,” Marianne Krestenberger, 63, told Reuters at a Kurz rally on Sept. 19 in Baden—a wealthy suburb of Vienna.
“He basically has the choice between plague, cholera and maybe also Ebola,” political analyst Thomas Hofer said of Kurz’s options.
The SORA projection showed the Social Democrats coming second with 21.7 percent— their worst result since World War Two—but still well ahead of the FPO on 16.1 percent and the Greens on a record 14.0 percent. The Neos were on 7.8 percent. The projection had a margin of error of 0.7 percentage point.
Many of Kurz’s core voters, such as farmers and the business community, are wary of the Greens.
“They make politics for people living in cities, not in rural areas where they need a car,” said Kurz supporter Paul Widmann.
Many politicians and analysts expect a long period of coalition talks that could leave the current provisional government of civil servants led by former judge Brigitte Bierlein in place until Christmas or later.
By Francois Murphy