Austria’s far right loses ground as Sebastian Kurz wins landslide

Conservative leader Sebastian Kurz and his People’s Party have won Austria’s parliamentary vote. The far-right Freedom Party, Kurz’s former coalition partner, has taken a beating following a corruption scandal.

Former Chancellor Sebastian Kurz’s People’s Party (ÖVP) won a clear victory in Austria’s snap parliamentary election.

Kurz’s party scored 37.1 percent in Sunday’s vote — an increase of 5.7 percentage points compared with the 2017 poll.

The far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ) suffered a worse-than-expected loss, down almost 10 percentage points to around 16%, a sign that the party’s reputation may have suffered after a corruption scandal earlier this year.

The center-left Social Democrats (SPÖ) plunged five percentage points to around 22%, the party’s worst results since World War II.

The Greens gained 10.2 points to reach 14%, raising the prospect of a coalition between the ÖVP and the Greens.

Some 6.4 million Austrians were eligible to vote in Sunday’s parliamentary election.

Read more: Sebastian Kurz: Austria’s once and likely future chancellor

Supporters of the Austrian People's Party gather holding signs

Supporters of the Austrian People’s Party celebrated the poll projections

Ibiza scandal

The vote followed the collapse in May of Kurz’s coalition with FPÖ after a video sting scandal that forced the party’s Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache to step down. The footage filmed secretly on the Spanish resort island of Ibiza showed Strache appearing to offer public contracts in exchange for campaign help from a fake Russian backer.

Kurz, 33, has emerged largely unscathed from the FPÖ scandal, even gaining voters from the FPÖ as its support has slipped to roughly a fifth of the electorate from just over a quarter in the last vote in 2017. On the left, there has been some shift in support from the Social Democrats (SPÖ) to the resurgent Greens.

Read more: German data protection agency criticizes Austrian Ibiza video

Possible coalition partners

“Today, the people have voted us back to power,” Kurz told his supporters after the election. The ÖVP leader refrained from saying which party he would prefer to join in a coalition government.

FPÖ’s new leader, Norbert Hofer, said his party would prefer to sit on opposition benches. “A party needs to learn from the mistakes of the past and rebuild itself,” he said.

The Social Democrats could remain Kurz’s possible junior partner. “It’s not what we hoped for. It’s not what we fought for,” said SPÖ leader Pamela Rendi-Wagner.

A coalition between ÖVP and the pro-business Neos also appeared unlikely after the latter received only 7.8% of the vote.

Werner Kogler, head of the Austrian Greens, acknowledged that his party had benefited from an increasing focus on fighting climate change, particularly among young voters. “We want to be able to look them in the eyes,” he said when asked about the possibility of joining a future government.

Kogler said it was too early to talk about a possible coalition, but that the ÖVP would have to “change radically” on climate and poverty issues. “We might end up having no government” with Green participation if that does not happen, he said.