Austria will hold a snap parliamentary election this year, Chancellor Christian Kern said yesterday, as his foreign minister moved to take control of the main conservative party in their now moribund coalition.
An election would give the far-right Freedom Party (FPO) a good chance of entering national government less than a year after its candidate lost a close-fought presidential run-off. The FPO is leading in opinion polls, just ahead of Kern's Social Democrats. But surveys also suggest the conservative People's Party would leap ahead if Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz took over as its leader, as he is widely expected to do.
"There will definitely ... be an election, I assume in the coming autumn," Kern said in an interview with ORF TV. He had resisted the idea of a snap election, calling for the coalition to keep working until its term ends in more than a year's time.
Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz on Friday called for a snap parliamentary election but stopped short of laying claim to his squabbling conservative party's leadership and bringing down the coalition government.
Mitterlehner's surprise resignation raises pressure on Foreign Minister Kurz to take over as head of the OVP, as he is widely expected to do before the next election. Kurz said he has no interest in taking over the OVP at present but several polls suggest that it would boost the party's ratings and thrust it into first place if he did. Deep rifts have plagued the "grand coalition" between the OeVP and the SPOe led by Chancellor Christian Kern, spurring speculation that the unhappy union would dissolve long before the next scheduled election in autumn 2018.
The two parties already announced a new coalition agreement in January that included several law-and-order measures aimed at eroding support for the FPO and giving their fractious government a new lease of life. But squabbling between the SPO and OVP has continued.
Kurz, 30, is a star of Austrian politics who is widely seen as his party's best hope of reviving its fortunes. The current leader of the People's Party (OVP), Reinhold Mitterlehner, announced on Wednesday that he was stepping down, partly because of his inability to stop in-fighting among his ministers.
Kurz said on Friday he wanted a snap election but that he would only accept the OVP's top job if it came with sweeping powers on issues including staffing.
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