Austria’s conservative ex-chancellor, Sebastian Kurz, looked set for a major election victory Sunday in a snap poll called after his coalition government with the far-right Freedom Party collapsed in May.
Exit polls released by Austrian public broadcaster ORF showed Kurz’s Austrian People’s Party is projected to get 37.2%, a gain of 5.7 percentage points compared with 2017.
The Freedom Party was forecast to lose 10 percentage points and get 16%, a sign that voters were punishing the party for a video that showed its longtime leader, Heinz-Christian Strache, appearing to offer favors to a purported Russian investor.
The center-left Social Democratic Party was projected to lose 4.9 percentage points and receive 22%, its worst results since World War II.
The Alpine country of 8.8 million has been run by a nonpartisan interim administration since June, after the video was released.
About 6.4 million Austrians ages 16 and older were eligible to vote, with preelection polls forecasting a strong victory for Kurz.
The 33-year-old will have to choose whether his conservative People’s Party will form a fresh coalition with a chastened Freedom Party or team up with the center-left Social Democrats. Both were running neck-and-neck ahead of the vote.
“To go back to the Freedom Party, in the current situation this would be very difficult,” said Peter Hajek, a political analyst, but he added that “the chemistry with the Social Democrats just doesn’t work.”
Under Pamela Rendi-Wagner, the Social Democrats, who have led many of post-World War II Austria’s governing coalitions, have failed to capitalize on the government’s collapse.
Hajek said other options could see Kurz team up with the environmental Greens, who were forecast to get 14.3% of the vote, and the pro-business Neos, who were expected to get 7.4%. A coalition with just the Greens would also be possible.
Kurz’s People’s Party won the 2017 election with 31.5% of the vote, with the Social Democrats taking 26.9% and the Freedom Party 26%.