After Coalition Talks, Kurz Expected To Be Austria's Next Prime Minister No party won a majority but Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz, 31, is poised to head the government following tough coalition government negotiations.

After Coalition Talks, Kurz Expected To Be Austria's Next Prime Minister

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Austrians voted yesterday in a national election that could have profound implications for Europe. Preliminary results show they gave their millennial foreign minister Sebastian Kurz a mandate to form a new government.


SEBASTIAN KURZ: (Speaking German).

GREENE: Last night he told his supporters, we've done the impossible. Well, at least, it looks like it was the improbable. Let's talk about this with NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson who is in Vienna. And Soraya, how significant is this victory in Austria.

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: Well, for one thing it could mean that this 31-year-old foreign minister is going to become the youngest head of government in Europe. It's important to note, though, that with 16 parties running yesterday in the parliamentary elections, Kurz did not - or I should say his People's Party did not get the majority needed for them to govern alone, which means that he would have to partner with another winner from yesterday's election in order to actually govern. And who that partner is, Kurz isn't really saying at the moment. But all indications are it's going to be this faction here that's very right wing and linked to former Nazis. It's called the Freedom Party of Austria.

GREENE: Well, that's interesting. I mean, that sounds significant because the Freedom Party has not been in the Austrian government in years. I mean, like 17 years ago, there was an outcry and sanctions imposed by Brussels. I mean, so why would this new leader want to partner with them at this moment?

NELSON: Well, for one thing the other faction that he could form a coalition with, which is a center-left Social Democratic Party, is the same party that his faction was in government with till recently. And they just broke up their partnership earlier this year, which is why there were even elections yesterday. It was a year early. So it's not really plausible for him to join with them now. On top of that, Kurz campaigned on the dangers of uncontrolled immigration to Austria and the need to get Muslim refugees and immigrants integrated into Austria or force them to leave. And that's the same platform the Freedom Party had. Although, of course, its message which was much more harsh and xenophobic and led many voters to go over to Kurz and his party. What's kind of clear from yesterday's vote is that with a majority of Austrians apparently embracing this anti-Islam, anti-refugee message, a partnership between Kurz's party and the Freedom Party might make sense.

GREENE: But if you have a party that was linked to former Nazis being involved in the government, I mean, just that prospect - what has been the response been from outside Austria?

NELSON: Well, it's been very much a wait-and-see-what-happens at least here in Europe. Although, the World Jewish Congress, very quickly last night after the polls closed, issued a statement protesting the fact that more than a quarter of Austrian voters would cast ballots for the Freedom Party. But the kind of backlash the Austrians faced in 2000 when the Freedom Party was last in government is not really expected this time, says Austrian political analyst and campaign consultant Thomas Hofer.

THOMAS HOFER: I mean, in the year 2000, the whole world looked at Austria said you crazy guys, what are you doing? And now this is a phenomenon where Austria is not alone. I mean, they're right-wing wing populists all over the place. And now Austria is maybe considered to be some kind of bellwether state, but certainly not the outlaw in a sense that you say, OK. We have to block that because this is just crazy what's gone on in this country. You see right-wing populism now even in Germany, which nobody would have believed just a couple of years ago.

NELSON: The People's Party told me or one of their officials told me that Kurz won't tolerate any anti-Semitism or anti-EU actions on the part of whatever partner it ends up pulling into the new government.

GREENE: All right. NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson in Vienna talking to us about quite a political moment for Austria and maybe also for Europe as a whole.


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