Austria’s Kurz faces tricky choices to form next government

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Top candidate of the Austrian People’s Party, OEVP, Sebastian Kurz arrives for a TV interview in Vienna, Austria, Sunday, Sept. 29, 2019, after the closing of the polling stations for the Austrian national elections. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)

VIENNA (AP) — A day after winning Austria’s early election, former Chancellor Sebastian Kurz refused Monday to rule out any options for forming a new government, including courting the far-right Freedom Party that suffered heavy losses following corruption allegations.

Kurz’s conservative People’s Party finished first with 37.1% of the vote Sunday and he said he planned to honor his pledge to talk to all rivals about the possibility of a coalition.

“Of course we will seek talks with all parties and try to determine which parties there’s overlap with, which parties a stable government can be formed with,” he told public broadcaster ORF.

The 33-year-old also bristled at calls from German commentators for his party to shun a fresh coalition with far-right partners.

“I don’t think we need advice from abroad, including from Germany,” he said.

A video showing former Freedom Party leader Heinz-Christian Strache offering favors to a purported Russian investor triggered the collapse of Kurz’s 17-month government with them in May. Strache also faces an investigation for suspected breach of trust over the alleged billing of private expenses to his party, which contributed to its weak third-place finish Sunday with 16% of the vote.

The Freedom Party has indicated it plans to move into opposition to rebuild itself, leaving Kurz with only two realistic options: joining with the second-placed Social Democrats, whose share of the vote fell to 21.7%, or the environmentalist Greens, who staged a big comeback after failing to enter parliament in 2017 and received 14% support on Sunday.

“I fear (coalition talks) will be a little bit more challenging this time,” said Kurz.

Kurz said safeguarding the economy in this Alpine nation of 8.8 million would be the main task for the coming years, citing a looming economic downturn in neighboring Germany, the unsolved issue of Britain’s impending departure from the European Union and the bloc’s trade tensions with the United States.

Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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