Europe’s migration crisis casts long shadow as Austria votes

An election capaign poster of top candidate of Social Democratic Party (SPOe) and Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern is seen in Vienna, Austria October 15, 2017. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger

By Shadia Nasralla and Kirsti Knolle-VIENNA (Reuters) – Austria voted on Sunday in a parliamentary election that is expected to see 31-year-old conservative Sebastian Kurz become chancellor on a pledge to take a hard line on refugees and prevent a repeat of Europe’s migration crisis.

Foreign Minister Kurz propelled his People’s Party (OVP) to the top of opinion polls when he became leader in May, dislodging the far-right Freedom Party (FPO) that had held first place for more than a year.

If Kurz’s OVP wins, the FPO would still have a good chance of entering government for the first time in more than a decade.

The winner will probably need a coalition to govern and the FPO could be kingmaker because the OVP and their current coalition partner, the Social Democrats, are at loggerheads.

Austria, a wealthy country of 8.7 million people that stretches from Slovakia to Switzerland, was a gateway into Germany for more than 1 million people during the migration crisis that began in 2015. Many of them were fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and elsewhere.

Austria also took in roughly 1 percent of its population in asylum seekers in 2015, one of the highest proportions on the continent. Many voters say the country was overrun.

“Immigration policy, which Mr Kurz talked about so often, was decisive,” 58-year-old Kurz supporter Ingrid Regina said outside a polling station in Vienna on a warm, sunny autumn day. “I expect things to improve and order to return.”

The inflow of migrants buoyed the FPO and similar anti-immigration parties across Europe, including the Alternative for Germany party, which secured seats in parliament last month.

NEOS party top candidate Matthias Strolz attends his final election campaign rally in Vienna, Austria, October 14, 2017. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger
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