Snap elections likely with coalition collapse: Austrian chancellor

Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern addresses a news conference in Vienna, Austria on May 10, 2017.
Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern addresses a news conference in Vienna, Austria on May 10, 2017.PHOTO: REUTERS

VIENNA • Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern said yesterday that he expected early elections this year after his coalition partners pulled the plug on their alliance.

"There will with certainty be elections in the autumn this year, I expect," Mr Kern said during a televised talk show on public broadcaster ORF.

"It has to be accepted that the OeVP put an end to this coalition on Friday live on television. They made it quite clear that they don't want (to be in coalition) any more," Mr Kern said.

Austria's unhappy "grand coalition" between Mr Kern's centre-left Social Democrats (SPOe) and the centre-right People's Party (OeVP) was meant to govern until next September.

After months of failing to agree much in the way of reforms to boost Austria's lagging economy, the head of the OeVP, Mr Reinhold Mitterlehner, resigned last Wednesday.

Two days later his likely successor, Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz - who was expected to be appointed party leader late yesterday - called for the coalition to end and for early elections.

If the vote happens, it will set up another nail-biting election in Europe this year, following those in the Netherlands and France and the ones scheduled for Britain and Germany.

It could see Austria's far-right Freedom Party (FPOe), currently riding high in opinion polls, enter or even lead a new coalition with the SPOe or the OeVP.

Last year the populist, anti-immigration FPOe's Mr Norbert Hofer came close to being elected to the largely ceremonial but coveted post of Austrian president.

Forming a government usually requires at least two parties.

Mr Kurz, 30, is a star of Austrian politics who is widely seen as his party's best hope of reviving its fortunes.

Mr Kurz said last Friday that he wanted a snap election but that he would only accept the OeVP's top job if it came with sweeping powers on issues including staffing.

Calling a snap election requires a majority in Parliament.

The FPOe supports the idea - it and the OeVP are three seats short of a majority.

Mr Kern accused the OeVP and Mr Kurz of failing to honour the commitment they made in January to a package of measures that was aimed at breathing new life into the coalition and eroding support for the FPOe, but which failed to put an end to squabbling that has marred the centrist coalition.

That package included a series of law-and-order measures such as a ban on Muslim face-covering veils in public places.

Mr Kurz has made a tough line on immigration one of his hallmarks, to the point that the FPOe has accused him of stealing its ideas.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 15, 2017, with the headline 'Snap elections likely with coalition collapse: Austrian chancellor'. Print Edition | Subscribe