Austria vote could tilt country right, install young leader

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Austria vote could tilt country right, install young leader
Austria vote could tilt country right, install young leader

VIENNA (AP) – In an election that could shake up Austria’s politics, voters were deciding Sunday whether the nation moves to the right after decades of centrist policies. The result could pave the way for Europe’s youngest government leader.

Three parties, and two messages, are vying for first place in the general election: the center-left Social Democrats are campaigning on reducing social inequality, while the People’s Party and the Freedom Party have focused on concerns about immigration and Islam.

The latter two parties have called for securing Austria’s borders and quickly deporting asylum-seekers whose requests are denied – ideas that appear to have been heard. The People’s Party went into the election with the most support, according to polls, with the Freedom Party second and the Social Democrats third.

Much of the People’s Party’s appeal is due to its leader, Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz, who at 31 would become Europe’s youngest leader if his party wins and he can form a government.

Since taking the helm in the spring amid growing strains between the governing Social Democratic-People’s Party coalition, he has moved his center-right party further to the right, particularly on the issues of migration and Muslims. But he avoids the inflammatory rhetoric of the right-wing Freedom Party and its head, Heinz-Christian Strache.

That makes Kurz’s party appealing to voters sensitive about immigration in the wake of the 2015 mass influx of mostly Muslim migrants into the EU but who oppose the Freedom Party. Strache has modified the tone of his message and the party is keen on shedding its past links to anti-Semitism. But it continues to attract a small neo-Nazi fringe.

More than 6.4 million Austrians were eligible to vote. The last polling stations close at 1500 GMT (11 a.m. EDT). Final results aren’t expected until later this coming week, when the last of the absentee ballots and ballots cast at polling stations outside a voter’s district are counted.

A person passes posters of the conservative Austrian People’s Party, OEVP, left, and the Austrian Social Democrats, SPOE, in Vienna, Austria, Saturday, Oct. 14, 2017. Austria will hold national elections on Sunday, Oct. 15, 2017. (AP Photo/Ronald Zak)
FILE- In this Friday, March 17, 2017 file photo, Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz speaks during an interview with The Associated Press in Vienna, Austria. Polling places have started opening in Austria, where voters will decide Sunday, Oct. 15, 2017 whether the country moves right after decades of centrist policies and could pave the way for Europe’s youngest government leader. (AP Photo/Ronald Zak, File)
Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern talks to supporters during a campaign rally of the Social Democratic party SPOe in Vienna, Austria, Saturday, Oct. 14, 2017. Austria will hold national elections on Sunday, Oct. 15, 2017. (AP Photo/Ronald Zak)
Hans-Christian Strache, leader of the strongly eurosceptic Austrian Freedom Party FPOE, drinks a beer during the final campaign rally of his party in Vienna, Austria, Friday, Oct. 13, 2017. Austria will hold national elections on Sunday, Oct. 15, 2017. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)
Demonstrators hold posters ‘Nazis get off’ during a demonstration against the Austrian Freedom Party FPOe in Vienna, Austria, Friday, Oct. 13, 2017. Austria will hold national elections on Sunday, Oct. 15, 2017. (AP Photo/Ronald Zak)
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