Austria’s Kurz: world’s youngest leader in waiting

VIENNA

“Whizz-kid”, “Basti Fantasti”, “Messiah” are just some of the monikers given to Austrian conservative Sebastian Kurz, the world’s youngest leader in waiting.

His People’s Party (OeVP), revamped by the 31-year-old as a more hard-line “movement”, was projected to have come first in Sunday’s election with some 31.5 percent of the vote.

“Many people have placed great hopes in our movement,” the fresh-faced wonder boy told a sea of supporters in Vienna on Sunday evening.

“It’s time to establish a new political style… I accept this responsibility with great humility.”

COALITION

But his possible next move — entering a coalition with the far-right Freedom Party (FPOe) of Heinz-Christian Strache — could see some of his shine removed.

The takeover of the OeVP in May by “Emperor Kurz” was as swift as it was radical.

First he ended the decade-long unhappy coalition with the Social Democrats (SPOe). Then he rebranded the OeVP and its black party colour as a turquoise “movement” tough on migrants and easy on taxes.

The strategy of “putting Austrians first” propelled the sluggish OeVP to pole position in opinion polls and Kurz to near-rock star status.

EUPHORIA

Wherever he goes, fans sporting turquoise T-shirts chant his name and women ask if they can hug him.

Selfie sessions with Kurz, always in slim-cut suits and tieless white shirts, last over two hours.

Observers say there hasn’t been this much euphoria over an Austrian politician since Joerg Haider, the magnetic but controversial FPOe leader who died in a drink-driving car crash in 2008.

“His phenomenon isn’t all that new and resembles the… expectations placed in Joerg Haider,” journalist Christa Zoechling wrote in current affairs magazine Profil ahead of the ballot.

CAMPAIGNS

In slick campaign adverts of him scaling the Alps, Kurz promised — echoing the FPOe — to slash taxes and red tape and “return this beautiful country to the peak”.

“The time is now,” read election posters with Kurz pensively staring into the distance.

“The republic gets a fresh start with Kurz,” jubilant supporter Werner Schwab, 64, told AFP on Sunday.

His appeal as an agent of change is remarkable given that he has been a key cog in the political machine he now seeks to overhaul.

RIDICULE

The only child of a secretary and a teacher, Kurz joined the OeVP’s youth wing in 2003.

As its chief, he drew ridicule with a 2010 council election campaign featuring the slogan “Schwarz macht geil”, or “Black makes you hot”.

Kurz posed with skimpily clad girls on top of a black Hummer, the so-called “hot-o-mobile”, and distributed black condoms.

This blunder notwithstanding, the former law student enjoyed a meteoric rise, becoming secretary of integration in 2011 and foreign minister two years later, aged just 27.

INFLUENTIAL

Full of praise for Hungary’s populist premier Viktor Orban, Kurz claims credit for closing the Balkan migrant trail in 2016.

The move saw the Austrian named one of the most influential Europeans by news website Politico.

The notoriously private politician — he’s seldom seen in public with long-term girlfriend Susanne — ran a campaign as immaculate as his trademark gelled-back hair.

Even his OeVP takeover had apparently been months in the planning, according to a leaked document.

MINI-DICTATOR

But critics have accused Kurz of being a “mini-dictator” running a “one-man show”.

Some analysts warn that Kurz’s election will be an “earthquake” for the EU, despite his pro-European pledge.

“He’s a ‘Haider light’ version,” said Paris-based Austria expert Patrick Moreau.

Kurz’s ideas on everything from immigration to economic policy represent a “complete rupture” with the EU, Moreau added.

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