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Kurz Returns

Austria’s Chancellor Sebastian Kurz delivers a news conference at the presidential office at Hofburg Palace in Vienna, Austria, May 21, 2019. (Leonhard Foeger/Reuters)

Sebastian Kurz had a strong showing in Austria’s snap elections this weekend. He led conservative People’s Party to 37 percent of the vote, up from 31 percent last time. Kurz is once again proving his reputation as a kind of boy wonder of European politics. He took the immigration issue from his right-wing challengers and has triumphed in the last general election. And he has survived controversy and scandal to win again.

You may recall that snap elections were called because of mounting scandals in the government Kurz led in coalition with the rightist Freedom party. Leading officials were in a number of scandals, the worst of which featured party leader Heinz-Christian Strache promising government contracts to a woman pretending to be the niece of a Russian oligarch. Kurz lost a no-confidence vote in May after that and a care takeover government lasted until now.

Kurz is undamaged and perhaps even improved from the scandals. He expressed his intolerance and disgust with Strache when the incriminating tape came to light.  He will now have to choose carefully to find a coalition partner to form a government. He could try with the Freedom Party again (which saw a significant downturn), or with the Greens. Either decision is likely to disappoint a core of his supporters.

European commentators keep waiting for the populist right to die. And it refuses to do so. As in so many European countries (Germany, Italy, etc) the center left in Austria is winded. The Social Democrats (SPÖ) got their worst result in decades, just 21.7 percent of the vote.

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