Austria will hold snap election this year, says chancellor

Austrian chancellor Christian Kern has indicated he will call for a snap election by autumn.
Austrian chancellor Christian Kern has indicated he will call for a snap election by autumn.PHOTO: REUTERS

VIENNA (REUTERS) - Austria will hold a snap parliamentary election this year, Chancellor Christian Kern said on Sunday (May 14), 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 the 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 Mr 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," Mr 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.

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Mr 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), Mr Reinhold Mitterlehner, announced on Wednesday that he was stepping down, partly because of his inability to stop in-fighting among his ministers.

Mr 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. The OVP leadership was due to meet on Sunday at 4pm (10pm Singapore time) to pick Mr Mitterlehner's successor.

"The OVP ended the coalition on Friday," Mr Kern said, referring to Mr Kurz's speech.

Snap elections require a majority in parliament and the Chancellor said he did not believe carrying on with a minority government was viable.

"It would possibly have a numerical majority but probably not a political majority," he said.