Anti-immigration conservative Kurz set to win election in Austria

Sebastian Kurz, leader of the conservative Austrian People’s Party.Thomas Kronsteiner | Getty ImagesAustria’s most prominent anti-immigration lawmaker looks all set to return to power, not even four months since his premiership ended.Sebastian Kurz, leader of the conservative Austrian People’s Party, is leading opinion polls ahead of Sunday’s vote. He had been elected as Austrian Chancellor back in 2017, but his coalition government collapsed in May this year after a far-right coalition ally got embroiled in a cash-for-contracts scandal. Kurz rose to prominence in Austrian and European politics during 2015, when criticizing Germany’s “open-arm” immigration policy.The 33-year-old made a name for trying to solve the migration crisis, Mathew Rodger, an analyst and the Economist Intelligence Unit, told CNBC over the phone. He added that Kurz’s tough stance on immigration is still enjoyed by right wing voters as well as those that would traditionally vote for his conservative party.Opinion polls, out last Sunday, showed Kurz getting 34% of the vote, followed by the Socialist Party with 22% of support. His former coalition partner, the Freedom Party (FPO), came third in the same poll with 20% of the voting intentions.The Freedom Party, which one of its slogans reads “loyal to the homeland”, saw public support declining in the wake of the Ibiza gate scandal in May – when its party leader, Heinz-Christian Strache, was filmed trying to trade public contracts in exchange for party donations from a woman that he believed was the wealthy niece of a Russian oligarch.Strache resigned in the wake of the scandal. The Freedom Party is now being led by Norbert Hofer and public support for the party has slowly grown.As a result, Rodger expects the “reformation of the previous government” – a coalition between Sebastian Kurz’s conservative party and the Freedom Party, one of Europe’s oldest far-right movements.”The surprise has been how well the core support for the right has held,” the EIU analyst added.The big winner could be the Greens who look set to triple their vote share.In a note out on Monday, Rodger said while Kurz had given no indication as to his preferred coalition partner he will have three options: “The far-right Freedom Party; the centre-left Social Democratic Party; or a three-way coalition with the environmentalist Greens and the liberal NEOS party.”Reinhard Heinisch, professor of comparative Austrian politics at the Salzburg University, told CNBC over the phone Tuesday, that it will be important to see the outcome of the election and check which party Kurz could choose as a coalition partner.Polls have also shown growing support for the Green party, recently placing fourth with 12% of the voting intentions.Heinisch said Kurz could well opt to buy off support from the Green party, in exchange for a more climate-friendly agenda, even though they have different views when it comes to economic policy.

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