Sebastian Kurz, the 31-year-old conservative front-runner from the People’s Party could be elected as the world’s youngest leader as Austrians flocked to the polls to participate in a national election on Sunday.
Nationalist candidates have been shut out in elections held at the Netherlands, France and Germany but the Freedom Party has been there before. Poll surveys show People’s Party account for more than 30% of votes and the Social Democrats holding a slim lead over the Freedom Party.
But the People’s Party is expected to form a coalition with Heinz-Christian Strache’s populist Freedom Party which would effectively end a decade of governance by the Social Democrats.
While the Social Democrats were able to reinvigorate the economy, majority of Austrians are concerned about the group’s pro-immigration stance and their ability to sustain the country’s prosperity.
In 2015, more than 70,000 refugees, mostly of Muslim descent came over to Austria to seek asylum from countries embroiled in war such as Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq.
Austria which is a nation of 8.7 Million people had a difficult time accommodating the refugees in its schools and hospitals. There was also much dissent on whether it was proper to give the immigrants generous welfare support.
Media coverage on the current state of refugee immigration has caused fear and concern among Austrians. While the country still enjoys low unemployment rates, economic stability and high quality of life, the locals are confused and uncertain about the influx of migrants.
Survey results show that compared to 10 years ago, majority of Austrians feel the government has largely ignored their concerns.
When Kurz was Foreign Minister in 2013, he challenged German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision to adopt an open-door policy for refugees and immigrants. Kurz believes the solution is to limit the number of asylum seekers to Austria so they could better adjust to the country’s customs and traditions.
Support for the People’s Party rose by more than 10 percentage points when Kurz was announced as its leader this year.
With regards to the economy, Kurz and Strache have pledged to implement business- friendly policies. They have also reiterated their preference to stay within the German- led camp that favours fiscal austerity.