Saturday, December 16, 2017

Polling stations have opened in Austria, where voters will decide whether the country moves towards the right after decades of centrist policies.

Three parties are vying for first place in Sunday’s national election: the Social Democrats, the People’s Party and the Freedom Party.

The centre-left Social Democrats have campaigned on reducing social inequality. The other two have focused on concerns about immigration and Islam.

Both the People’s Party and the Freedom Party have called for securing Austria’s borders and quickly deporting asylum-seekers whose requests are denied.

Polls show the popularity of People’s Party head Sebastian Kurz has put his party ahead. At 31, he would become Europe’s youngest leader if his party wins and he can form a government.

Live Updates

1 hour ago

1 hour ago

Kurz, greeting supporters as he cast his vote, said he hoped for “a good result, so that real change can be possible.” Expressing optimism at another polling station, Social Democratic Chancellor Christian Kern said “we are planning a longer party.” 

In comments indirectly directed at the euroskeptic Freedom Party, left-leaning President Alexander Van der Bellen, who narrowly defeated a Freedom Party candidate in elections for the head of state last year, said he “puts great value on pro-European government.” Van der Bellen must swear in any new government and a strong showing by the Freedom Party and the People’s Party would make a ruling coalition between them likely. 
 

2 hours ago

Things are quiet now in Austria but the TV studios are gearing up for their result shows later, when it is expected that the far right will make big gains. 
 

3 hours ago

Green politician Judith Schwentner is among people in Austria who have been tweeting images from the polling stations that have now been open for a few hours. 
 
 
 
 
And a crowd of journalists has gathered outside the polling station where Sebastian Kurz is due to vote later.
 
 
 

3 hours ago

Austria’s far-right looks set to be part of the country’s next government, with polls showing it on course to hold the balance of power. Here’s The Independent’s Europe Correspondent Jon Stone, explaining what that means.
 

Austrian far-right FPO poised to enter government

The IndependentAustria’s far-right looks set to be part of the country’s next government, with polls showing it on course to hold the balance of power ahead of elections this weekend. The last time the Freedom Party (FPÖ) entered government in the year 2000 the EU’s other member states imposed diplomatic sanctions on Austria in the hope of forcing the extremists out of power. Now, polling in second place at around 25 per cent of the vote, the party is confident of returning to power as a kingmaker, and may be on the brink of matching its strongest showing ever.

4 hours ago

The winner from today’s election forms a government that will likely require a coalition with one of the two other main parties. With Kurz and Kern at loggerheads, the far-right Freedom Party is very likely to play kingmaker.

Three smaller parties are polling between 4 per cent, which is the threshold for entering parliament, and 6 per cent.

The last polling stations close at 5 pm (4pm BST) and the first projections are due minutes later. A final count is expected later in the evening, though large numbers of postal ballots could mean final results come on Monday.

5 hours ago

Leaders of all three top parties warned voters to be skeptical about polling in a bid to improve turnout.

“You should not pay attention to opinion polls. You should instead go by the atmosphere here,” FPO leader Heinz-Christian Strache told cheering supporters at a shopping mall in Vienna on Saturday.

The FPO has accused Kurz of copying its ideas and Strache called him an “impersonator.”

The Social Democrats were hit two weeks ago by a smear scandal that forced their chairman to step down.

“You must … go to your neighbours, go into bars, go to your friends and tell them what is at stake,” Kern told a rally in Vienna on Saturday, calling Kurz a candidate of the rich.

He warned of a repeat of the OVP-Freedom Party coalition in the early 2000s that was marked by financial scandals.

5 hours ago

Foreign Minister Kurz propelled his People’s Party (OVP) to the top of opinion polls when he became leader in May, dislodging the far-right Freedom Party that had led for a year.

Kurz says he will shut the main migrant routes into Europe, via the Balkans and the Mediterranean. Many voters say Austria was overrun when it opened its borders in 2015 to hundreds of thousands of people fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and elsewhere.

“We must stop illegal immigration to Austria because otherwise there will be no more order and security,” Kurz told tabloid daily Oesterreich on Friday.

Chancellor Christian Kern’s Social Democrats (SPO) are in coalition with Kurz’s OVP but Kurz ended the alliance when he took over his party in May, forcing Sunday’s snap election.

Opinion polls show the conservatives ahead with around a third of the vote and a tight race for second between the Social Democrats and the Freedom Party (FPO), whose candidate nearly won last year’s presidential election.

Immigration has dominated the campaign. Kurz plans to cap benefits for refugees at well below the general level and bar other foreigners from receiving such payments until they have lived in the country for five years.

He also says he wants to shake up Austrian politics, which for decades has been dominated by a coalition between his party and the Social Democrats. His opponents say he is merely a new face on a party in power in various coalitions for 30 years.

5 hours ago

Voting is now under way in Austria’s election, where voters will decide whether the country moves right after decades of centrist policies, paving the way for Europe’s youngest government leader.

Three parties are vying for first place in Sunday’s national election: the Social Democrats, the People’s Party and the Freedom Party.

The centre-left Social Democrats have campaigned on reducing social inequality. The other two have focused on concerns about immigration and Islam.

Both the People’s Party and the Freedom Party have called for securing Austria’s borders and quickly deporting asylum-seekers whose requests are denied. Polls show the popularity of People’s Party head Sebastian Kurz has put his party ahead.

Kurz, 31, would become Europe’s youngest leader if his party wins and he can form a government.

5 hours ago

Welcome to The Independent’s live blog on the snap election taking place in Austria today.

Opinion polls have consistently shown the OVP in the lead with around a third of the vote, and second place being a tight race between the Social Democrats and the Freedom Party (FPO), whose candidate came close to winning last year’s presidential election.

“We must stop illegal immigration to Austria because otherwise there will be no more order and security,” Kurz told tabloid daily Oesterreich on Friday night.

Campaigning has been dominated by the immigration issue. Kurz plans to cap benefit payments for refugees at well below the general level and bar other foreigners from receiving such payments until they have lived in the country for five years.

He says he wants to shake up Austrian politics, which for decades has been dominated by a coalition between his party and the Social Democrats.

​Kurz’s opponents say he is merely a new face on an old party that has been in power in various coalitions for 30 straight years.

The last polling stations close at 5pm (4pm BST), with the first projections due minutes later. A final count is expected later in the evening.

Any tight margins might not be settled on the night, however, since a record number of postal ballots have been issued — even more than in the presidential run-off in May of last year, in which they swung the result, though a re-run was later ordered.

The Interior Ministry said more than 889,000 postal ballots had been issued, enough for roughly a seventh of the 6.4 million registered voters.

The counting of those ballots will not begin until Monday.