May 15, 2017 / 11:20 AM / 6 months ago

Austrian parties move toward October date for snap election

VIENNA (Reuters) - The leaders of Austria’s political parties on Monday moved toward setting an October date for a snap parliamentary election, with the far-right Freedom Party (FPO) hoping to capitalize on its lead in opinion polls.

Austria's Foreign Minister and designated new leader of the People's Party (OeVP) Sebastian Kurz leaves the presidential office in Vienna, Austria May 15, 2017. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger

Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz, 30, took over as leader of his conservative People’s Party (OVP) on Sunday and called for a snap election that will give the FPO a good chance of entering national government, since Kurz has infuriated the Social Democrats (SPO) by shattering their coalition with the OVP.

The Freedom Party (FPO) is running first in opinion polls on roughly 30 percent, just ahead of Chancellor Christian Kern’s SPO, with the OVP a distant third, but surveys suggest Kurz could catapult them into first place.

Kurz, Kern and other party leaders took turns on Monday to visit President Alexander Van der Bellen, who said agreement on a date in the autumn was within reach. Kurz later visited Kern at his office on Monday evening.

“My impression is that the individual parties’ preferences on the concrete election date are not all that far apart,” Van der Bellen said in a statement at his residence inside the former imperial palace in Vienna.

Although Van der Bellen is mediating with a view to reaching agreement on a date, just a simple majority in parliament is required to call an election. The FPO hosted a meeting of opposition party leaders on Monday afternoon.

Kurz said on Twitter he supported a proposal by opposition parties to hold the election on Oct. 8 or 15. A spokesman for the SPO said it backed the plan, too, suggesting it would have a broad majority if a final agreement is reached.

The FPO and Greens have said they will support a snap election, but only if it is called after June, so as not to interfere with a parliamentary inquiry into Austria’s order of Eurofighter jets a decade ago.

Reporting by Francois Murphy, Alexandra Schwarz-Goerlich, Kirsti Knolle and Leonhard Foeger; Editing by Andrew Heavens, Larry King

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