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.
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.