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story.lead_photo.caption Norbert Hofer (right), leader of the right-wing Freedom Party, stands Sunday besides Austrian People’s Party candidate Sebastian Kurz before a TV interview in Vienna, Austria, after the closing of the polling stations for the Austrian national elections.

VIENNA -- Austrian ex-Chancellor Sebastian Kurz is poised for a return to power, after his conservative People's Party won a snap election Sunday that was called after the collapse of his government with the far-right Freedom Party in May.

Kurz's party was expected to become the leading party in parliamentary elections, according to public broadcaster ORF.

"Today, the people have voted us back in again," Kurz, 33, told cheering supporters after the election, even as he refrained from saying which party he would seek to form a new government with.

The environmentalist Greens are one possible option. The party, which failed to enter parliament two years ago, looked set for a big comeback. Austrians, like voters elsewhere in Europe, have expressed increasing concern over the past year about climate change, the party's core topic.

The Freedom Party was forecast to lose parliamentary seats, a sign that voters were punishing the party for a leaked video that showed its longtime leader, Heinz-Christian Strache, appearing to offer favors to a purported Russian investor. The center-left Social Democrats are expected to come in second behind Kurz's party.

The Alpine country of 8.8 million has been run by a nonpartisan interim administration since June, after Kurz pulled the plug on his coalition with the Freedom Party over the Strache video. The footage, published by German news outlets Der Spiegel and Sueddeutsche Zeitung, showed Strache pandering to a woman claiming to be a Russian tycoon's niece at a boozy gathering in Ibiza two years ago.

About 6.4 million Austrians aged 16 and older were eligible to vote. The turnout was 75.5%.

Speaking alongside other party leaders late Sunday, Kurz said his 17-month alliance with the Freedom Party had been "very good" until the Ibiza video was published and pledged to hold talks with all parties represented in parliament.

The Freedom Party, whose anti-migrant message failed to resonate so strongly with voters this time, indicated it would prefer a spell in opposition.

"A party needs to learn from the mistakes of the past and rebuild itself," said the Freedom Party's new leader, Norbert Hofer.

The Social Democrats, who have led many of post-World War II Austria's governing coalitions, remain a possible junior partner, having failed to capitalize on the government's collapse under leader Pamela Rendi-Wagner.

"It's not what we hoped for. It's not what we fought for," she said after the party received its worst result since 1945.

Despite their political proximity, a coalition between Kurz's party and the pro-business Neos appeared unlikely after the latter had low voter turnout.

Werner Kogler, head of the Austrian Greens, acknowledged that his party benefited from the growing emphasis placed on fighting climate change, particularly among young voters.

"We want to be able to look them in the eyes," he said when asked about the possibility of joining a future government.

A Section on 09/30/2019

Print Headline: Austrian conservatives claim win


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