Austrians are voting in a snap parliamentary election, with former Chancellor Sebastian Kurz likely to return to power months after a corruption scandal brought down his coalition government with the far right.
With 6.4 million people eligible to vote, polling stations across Austria opened at 7am local time (05:00 GMT) on Sunday. They will close by 5pm (15:00 GMT) when first projections are expected.
Kurz’s conservative People’s Party (OVP) is predicted to finish first but face difficulties in finding a partner to govern with.
The vote follows the collapse in May of Kurz’s coalition with the far-right Freedom Party (FPO) after a video sting operation that forced Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache of the FPO to step down.
Kurz, 33, has emerged largely unscathed from the scandal, even gaining voters from the FPO whose support has slipped to roughly one-fifth of the electorate from just over a quarter in the last vote in 2017.
On the left, there has been some shift in support from the Social Democrats to the resurgent Greens.
‘Not much movement’
Opinion polls have generally showed OVP far ahead on roughly a third of the vote, the Social Democrats slightly ahead of the FPO and the Greens a distant fourth.
“Lots of agitation, but not much movement,” national broadcaster ORF said on Saturday, summarising a campaign with many debates between party leaders that failed to make a serious mark on the opinion polls.
Kurz has said he will talk to all parties after the election if he comes out on top.
His two most likely options are either to ally with the FPO again or with the Greens and the pro-business Neos.
A centrist coalition with the Social Democrats is possible but unlikely under their current leadership.
Surveys suggest the environment is voters’ top concern, which has helped the Greens surge from less than four percent in the last election, when they crashed out of parliament, to a projected 13 percent now.
As the campaign wound up last week, the FPO sought to focus voters’ attention on its core issue of migration, railing against immigrants in general and Muslims in particular, rather than addressing recent scandals that have eroded its support.
The widespread assumption among politicians and analysts is that the election will be followed by a long period of coalition talks, meaning the current provisional government of civil servants led by former judge Brigitte Bierlein could remain in place until late December or later.