Austrian conservative set to become world's youngest leader

Austrian conservative set to become world's youngest leader

Austria's conservative People's Party (ÖVP), led by 31-year-old Sebastian Kurz, is set to win the country's general election, projections suggest.

The victory would make Kurz the world's youngest national leader.

The People's Party was set to win 31.5%, followed by the Social Democrats with 27.1% and the far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ) with 25.9%, the BBC reports.

Short of a majority, Kurz's party could seek an alliance with the FPÖ, which campaigned against immigration.

Immigration has been a dominant issue in the run-up to the vote, and the FPÖ is thought to have its best chance in years of returning to government.

The party narrowly missed out on the presidency in December when Norbert Hofer was defeated by Alexander Van der Bellen, head of the Greens, who won with about 53% of the votes.

The election comes amid anxiety in Europe over the huge influx of undocumented migrants and refugees in 2015, which fuelled an electoral breakthrough by the far right in neighbouring Germany last month.

If the projections are correct, a political shake-up could be on the cards in Austria, the BBC reports from Vienna.

After more than a decade in which the Social Democrats have led a coalition with the conservatives, the mood in Austria seems to be moving to the right, our correspondent says.

Kurz, the outgoing foreign minister, reinvented the ÖVP after becoming leader in May, moving it rightward with promises to: Shut down migrant routes to Europe; cap benefit payments to refugees at a low level; bar other foreigners from receiving benefits until they have lived in Austria for five years; Kurz forced the snap election when he refused to continue in a coalition with the Social Democrats, led by incumbent Chancellor Christian Kern.

The FPÖ has accused Kurz of stealing their policies. Their candidate, Heinz-Christian Strache, has called him an "imposter".

Kern warned on Saturday that the country "was at the most important crossroads in decades".

His own party has been struggling after several scandals including an online smear campaign against Kurz.

The party's campaign focused on economic growth, jobs and social justice.

After a tumultuous year with internal rifts, the pro-refugee Greens are among several smaller parties uncertain of reaching the 4% threshold required to enter parliament.

Traditionally, the winning party is tasked with forming the next government which, since the 1980s, has been a coalition.

Under the late Jörg Haider, the Freedom Party was the junior party in two coalitions with the ÖVP, between 2000 and 2007.