Austria votes in snap election after video sting scandal

Sebastian Kurz, leader of Austria's People's Party (ÖVP) and his girlfriend Susanne Thier arrive at a polling station during snap elections in Vienna, Austria.Image copyright

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Sebastian Kurz has emerged largely unscathed from the “Ibizagate” scandal

Austrians have voted in a snap general election after a scandal caused the previous coalition government to fall.

The conservative People’s Party, led by former Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, is projected to come top with 37% of the vote, but will again need to form a coalition.

Social Democrats are projected to get 22.5% with the far-right Freedom Party on 16.7%.

Coalition talks are widely expected to be difficult, and may last for weeks.

The Freedom Party was a partner of Mr Kurz’s in a previous coalition.

Other parties involved are the Greens (projected to get 13.1%) and the the liberal Neos party (7.8%).

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Polling stations opened at 07:00 (05:00 GMT) and closed at 17:00. Some 6.4 million people were eligible to vote in the election.

After casting his ballot on Sunday, Mr Kurz, 33, briefly addressed reporters.

“Our most important election goal is that there will be no majority [in parliament] against us,” he said.

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Norbert Hofer is the new leader of the far-right FPÖ

Norbert Hofer, leader of the scandal-hit Freedom Party (FPÖ), told reporters after casting his vote: “What is important for us is that we have a solid base from which to both strengthen both the FPÖ and work in government.”

Clara Heisinger, a voter in Vienna, told AFP news agency that she hoped the election would mark an end to political drama.

“We had too much chaos in the last months. We hope for something less chaotic,” she said.

What was the scandal about?

It began in May when German media outlets published a video involving Vice-Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache – then leader of the (FPÖ).

The sting video had been secretly recorded before the 2017 election at a villa in the Spanish island of Ibiza.

In it, Mr Strache is seen promising government contracts to a woman posing as the niece of a Russian oligarch.

Media captionThe so-called “Ibizagate” video led to the collapse of Mr Kurz’s coalition

A Vienna lawyer who says he was involved in the sting described it as a “civil society-driven project in which investigative-journalistic approaches were taken”.

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The “Ibizagate” scandal forced Mr Strache to step down and led Mr Kurz to end the coalition between his centre-right People’s Party (ÖVP) and the FPÖ.

The country has been led by a caretaker government since June.

But despite the fallout, Mr Kurz appears to have emerged largely unscathed from the scandal.

What are the options?

The FPÖ, under new leader Norbert Hofer, is hoping to renew the coalition with Mr Kurz.

But while Mr Kurz shares a tough anti-immigration line with the FPÖ, the former chancellor may opt for a three-way pact with the Greens and Neos – a first in Austria.

A grand coalition with the Social Democrats (SPÖ) is considered unlikely because of the bad relations between Mr Kurz and the centre-left leadership, the BBC’s Bethany Bell in Vienna says.

Who is Sebastian Kurz?

The son of a secretary and a teacher, he became active in the ÖVP at the age of 16.

As a law student in Vienna he was elected chairman of the party’s youth wing. He quit his studies in 2011 to become a junior interior minister, rising to foreign minister in 2013 at the age of 27.

Two years later he presented a plan to improve the integration of immigrants. However, he was full of praise for Hungary’s populist Prime Minister Viktor Orban, and claimed credit for closing the Balkan migrant route in 2016.

Elected chairman in May 2017, he rebranded the party as the Turquoise Movement then served as chancellor from December 2017 to May 2019, when the Ibiza-gate brought down the coalition.