'Wake-Up Call for Progressives' as Far Right Surges in Austrian Elections

Sebastian Kurz, seen here on Sept. 7, 2017, led his People's Party to apparent victory in Sunday's election. (Photo: Raul Mee (EU2017EE)/flickr/cc)

'Wake-Up Call for Progressives' as Far Right Surges in Austrian Elections

Far-right party head feels "vindicated by the fact that way more than 55 percent" of voters chose its platform

Preliminary results from Sunday's parliamentary elections in Austria point towards a 31-year-old immigration hardliner becoming the country's next leader and his conservative party forming a coalition with the neo-Nazi linked Freedom Party.

Millennial Sebastian Kurz's People's Party (OVP)--which he's moved further to the right--took in 31.6 percent of the vote, while the Social Democrats and the far-right Freedom Party (FPO) each received about 26 percent of the vote.

Newsweekwrites that Kurz "achieved electoral success partly by adopting some of the Freedom Party's positioning on" immigration. That fact was noted by FPO head Heinz-Christian Strache. "I'm feeling somewhat vindicated by the fact that way more than 55 percent have voted for the Freedom Party's platform, because big parts of our program were copied by other parties," he said on a television panel. "We're now the mainstream of society."

The results, the New York Timeswrites, reflect "the new normal in Europe, where anti-immigration populism and nationalism are challenging the European Union's commitment to open borders for trade and immigration." According to Social Democratic Chancellor Christian Kern, the results reflect "a push to the right."

Kurz, who's been serving as foreign minister since 2013, "appealed to conservative and right-wing voters with pledges to shut down migrant routes to Europe, cap benefit payments to refugees, and bar immigrants from receiving benefits until they have lived in Austria for five years," BBC News reports.


For the Freedom Party, forming a coalition with the conservatives would be a milestone in Europe where its sister parties, Germany's AfD and France's National Front, can only dream of joining the cabinet.

When the Freedom Party last entered government in 2000, also with the conservatives, the EU imposed sanctions on Austria.

"I hope that many (in the European parliament) will understand that the topics we are running with have strong support among the population," said Harald Vilimsky, the FPO's most prominent EU parliamentarian.

"But in a measure of how far Europe has shifted to the right," the Washington Postnotes, "no one is contemplating sanctions today."

According to democracy advocate and Munich-based engineer Bogdan Gradinaru, Austria "plays a very important role in mirroring emerging trends in Europe," and the election outcome should serve as "a wake-up call for progressive movements... to push harder and stronger for their positions."

A final tally of the votes is expected Thursday.

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