Vienna / AFP
Austria will appoint its new Chancellor Christian Kern on Tuesday, with the ailing centrist government pinning its hopes on the ex-railway boss to help stem the surge of the far-right.
The 50-year-old, renowned for his glowing business achievements and snappy dress sense, is due to be sworn in by President Heinz Fischer .
Kern replaces fellow Social Democrat Werner Faymann of the SPOe party who threw in the towel on May 9 after a string of poor election results. The new leader faces the major challenge of uniting a fractious SPOe and smoothing over tensions with its coalition partner, the conservative People’s Party (OevP).
He also has to convince Austrians unhappy about the arrival of migrants and rising unemployment to vote for his party at the next scheduled elections in 2018.
“The task before Kern is Herculean,” political analyst Thomas Hofer said in a recent interview.
Kern’s appointment comes days before a presidential runoff vote, pitching Norbert Hofer of the far-right Freedom Party (FPOe) against the Green-backed candidate Alexander van der Bellen on May 22.
In the first round last month, Hofer comfortably beat his rival by 35 percent to 21 percent.
Meanwhile the SPOe and OeVP were knocked out of the race with just 11 percent. The dismal performance means that for the first time since 1945, the president will not come from one of the two main parties. This heralds the risk of the new head of state taking advantage of some of the president’s never-before-used powers, such as firing the government.
Mirroring trends elsewhere in Europe, Austria’s main parties have been losing voters for years while the FPOe now consistently scores more than 30 percent in opinion polls.
This means the SPOe and OeVP could fall short of being able in 2018 to re-form their “grand coalition”.