At 31 Sebastian Kurz is set to become the world’s youngest national leader.
The leader of the Austria’s conservative People’s Party (OVP) secured a clear victory on Sunday (winning more than 30% of the vote) with a hard line on immigration that left little space between it and the anti-Islam Freedom Party (FPO).
Kurz is now in a position to choose whether he wants to continue the “grand coalition” of the past decade or enter an alliance with the nationalist FPO which would be a rightward shift for Austrian politics.
Austria was a gateway into Germany for more than a million people fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and elsewhere in 2015.
Austria took in roughly 1 percent of its population in asylum seekers that year leaving it citizens feelings anxious about immigration and providing fertile political ground for parties keen on halting the influx.
Kurz is expected to make a deal with the FPO, but is yet to confirm his plans.
“Neither a coalition with the FPO nor one with the SPO has been agreed,” Kurz said shortly after projections showed his party had won Sunday’s election.
So who is he?
A “wonder kid” apparently.
The Austrian tabloids nicknamed Kurz “wunderwuzzi” - which loosely means wonder kid or wonder hotshot - something he embodied after his win by taking to the stage at Vienna’s Kursalon, draped in the turquoise colours of his party.
Ireland’s Leo Varadkar has said he is now looking forward to “hopefully no longer being the youngest” head of government in the European Union.
He is almost 10 years older at 38. The next youngest leader is believed to be North Korea’s 33-year-old dictator, Kim Jong Un.
King Of The Comparison
Kurz has been compared to the young leaders of France and Canada, Emmanuel Macron, 39, and Justin Trudeau, 45 - the latter equally famous for his youthful good looks and snazzy socks.
A Record Breaker
Not surprisingly, before the election Kurz held another record, he served as Europe’s youngest-ever foreign minister.
He was appointed in 2013 age 27 taking just three months to secure the spot after being elected to its parliament.
Kurz was made the acting leader of the People’s Party in May after former head Reinhold Mitterlehner stepped down. He was formally elected as chairman having secured 98.7% of votes. Delegates later approved changes to give the party leader more power to set policy.
Kurz was elected as chairman of the youth brand of the APP in 2009 and between 2010-2011 he was a member of Vienna’s city council.
In 2011 Kurz suspended his legal studies to focus on politics and in April of that year was appointed to the newly created post of State Secretary for Integration which was part of the Ministry of the Interior.
Two years later he was made a member of parliament when he won the most direct votes of any member.
Big On Brand
Like Macron, Kurz created a movement around himself, rebranding the People’s Party - which has been in power for more than 30 years - as “The New People’s Party”.
He campaigned on a platform of change, with posters emblazoned with ‘time for something new’ and made his candidacy conditional on an overhaul of his party’s selection processes.
Immigration led debates in the lead up to the election and Kurz appealed to conservative and right-wing voters with pledges to shut down migrant routes to Europe. He also pledged to cap benefit payments to refugees, and bar immigrants from receiving benefits until they have lived in Austria for five years.
The stance left little space between it and the anti-Islam Freedom Party which was founded by former Nazis and is a sister to France’s National Front and Germany’s AfD. Both parties have had a resurgence due to concerns around the migration crisis.
Austria’s shift to the right came after German voters last month punished Chancellor Angela Merkel’s open-door policy for migrants, pushing her conservative bloc to its worst showing since 1949 and putting the far-right AfD party in parliament.
Merkel said the strong FPO showing was a “big challenge” for other parties and she hoped for close cooperation with Kurz at a European level.
Alexander Lambsdorff, a senior member of Germany’s pro-business Free Democrats that are a possible coalition partner for Merkel, called the Austrian election results “a wake-up call for refugee policy that we finally have to organise together”.
“An orderly refugee policy is what people want, in Austria, in Germany, in other European countries,” he said.
Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto congratulated Kurz for his win, welcoming his stance on migration as close to that of Budapest.
He said he expected anti-immigration eastern EU states Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic to work more closely with Austria now.
Under current leader Heinz-Christian Strache, the FPO has become a more mainstream party and sought to rid its ranks of anti-Semitism, focusing instead on fighting political Islam.
But the FPO has had to throw out party officials on a regular basis in Nazi-related scandals.
The biggest opposition party in parliament serves in two provincial and several local governments. It has dropped calls to consider leaving the EU or the euro currency.
Still, World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder, who was the US ambassador to Austria from 1986 to 1987, called for the Freedom Party to be kept out of national government.
“It is sad and distressing that such a platform should receive more than a quarter of the vote,” Lauder said in a statement.