Austria election: Sebastian Kurz's People's Party in convincing win

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Sebastian Kurz of Austria's Peoples Party addresses supporters in Vienna, 29 September 2019Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
Sebastian Kurz has emerged largely unscathed from the "Ibizagate" scandal

Austria's conservatives, led by Sebastian Kurz, have won a clear election victory months after a video sting scandal ended the coalition.

With nearly all the votes counted, Mr Kurz's People's Party has about 37% of the vote, up from 31% last time round.

His former coalition partners, the far-right Freedom Party, have received about 16% - a sharp fall.

The snap general election was called after secret recordings published in May led to the government's collapse.

The video sting, which became known as "Ibizagate", exposed a conversation in which then-leader of the Freedom Party (FPÖ) Heinz-Christian Strache is heard promising government contracts to a woman posing as the niece of a Russian oligarch at a villa on the Spanish island.

Mr Kurz - in government with the Freedom Party at the time - appears to have emerged largely unscathed from the scandal.

About 6.4 million people were eligible to vote in Sunday's election.

What happens next?

The People's Party (ÖVP) triumphed in eight of Austria's nine federal states, losing only Vienna to the Social Democrats (SPÖ), which gained 21.7% of the overall vote.

Despite the People's Party's strong showing, it will not have a majority in parliament and Mr Kurz will need coalition partners.

The 33-year-old could choose to renew his alliance with the Freedom Party - the source of the scandal - but may want to look at other options.

A three-way pact with the Greens, which received 14% of the vote, and the liberal pro-business Neos party (7.8%) is considered far more likely than a grand coalition with the Social Democrats.

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

Green leader Werner Kogler said on Sunday that the government would need to see "radical change" from the right-wing policies pursued by the previous coalition.

What did the ex-coalition partners say?

Appearing at party headquarters to a rapturous welcome from party activists, Mr Kurz said: "I would like to take this opportunity to sincerely thank all of our voters... I promise that we will do our best for our beautiful [Austria]."

Image source, AFP
Image caption,
Norbert Hofer is the new leader of the far-right Freedom Party

Norbert Hofer, leader of the scandal-hit Freedom Party, told reporters he believed the result meant his party would not take part in coalition talks.

"That means we are preparing for opposition," he said.

What was the scandal about?

It began in May when German media outlets published a video involving Mr Strache, who was Austria's vice-chancellor at the time.

The sting video had been secretly recorded before the 2017 election.

In the footage, Mr Strache can be seen relaxing and drinking at the villa with fellow Freedom Party politician Johann Gudenus, while they meet the supposed Russian oligarch's niece.

Media caption,

The so-called "Ibizagate" video led to the collapse of Mr Kurz's coalition

During a subsequent conversation, Mr Strache appears to propose offering her public contracts if she buys a large stake in the Austrian newspaper Kronen Zeitung - and compels it to support his party.

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".

The "Ibizagate" scandal forced Mr Strache to step down and led Mr Kurz to end the coalition with the Freedom Party.

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

Who is Sebastian Kurz?

The son of a secretary and a teacher, he became active in the People's Party 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 also 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.