Austrian ruling coalition averts collapse, staves off early polls

VIENNA • The coalition parties of Austria's government have hammered out a new policy agenda for the 18 months until the next scheduled election, averting the threat of a snap vote that could bring the populist right to power.

Chancellor Christian Kern of the centre-left Social Democrats and Mr Reinhold Mitterlehner of the conservative People's Party declined to comment on details of the plan in separate remarks after talks ended in Vienna late on Sunday.

They were to present it to President Alexander Van der Bellen yesterday and seek approval of their parties' leadership before announcing it to the public, they said. "We agreed on a good programme that represents the intersection of our ideas very well," Mr Kern said.

"It's a pragmatic programme that shows the focus on employment and growth, a modernisation of the educational system, and how to prepare our economy for future challenges."

The coalition of the two main centrist parties, which has ruled Austria for 42 out of 72 years since World War II, has become increasingly fragile in the past decade. Disagreements on pension, welfare, tax and security policies have bogged the government down, causing acrimony and bickering.

Still, neither party has much to gain from abandoning the coalition and triggering early polls as both are losing support to the populist Freedom Party, which would clearly be the strongest party if national elections were held now, according to opinion polls.

Mr Kern, the former chief executive officer of the state railway system, took office last May after his predecessor Werner Faymann resigned, and triggered the latest round of talks last week when he said "there is no need for this government" if it could not "put results on the table".

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 31, 2017, with the headline 'Austrian ruling coalition averts collapse, staves off early polls'. Print Edition | Subscribe