VIENNA (Reuters) - Austrian conservative leader Sebastian Kurz said on Monday he needs more time to decide which party he will hold coalition talks with but did nothing to dampen expectations that he will turn to the far right.
Kurz’s People’s Party (OVP) won last week’s parliamentary election with 31.5 percent of the vote, well short of a majority, which means it needs a partner to form a stable government.
He had been expected to announce which party he would be inviting to coalition talks on Monday after spending the weekend talking with the leaders of all parties entering the new parliament.
“It has yet to be decided with whom we want to start negotiations. I will clarify that in the coming hours or days,” Kurz said after meeting President Alexander Van der Bellen.
“There are certain issues that I would like to discuss again informally or clear up before I start negotiations,” he told reporters, declining to elaborate.
European leaders have expressed guarded concern about the possible return to power of the Freedom Party (FPO), which was founded in the 1950s by ex-Nazis and was last in government more than a decade ago.
The FPO once argued against membership in the European Union but has become steadily more mainstream, dropping those calls and expelling members for anti-Semitic statements.
Kurz, who is just 31, has maintained that any future government will be pro-European. But he campaigned on an anti-immigration platform that was very similar to the FPO’s, after Europe’s migration crisis left many voters feeling Austria was being overrun.
Only two parties — the Social Democrats (SPO), who came second in the election, and the FPO, which came third — have enough seats to give Kurz a majority if they go into coalition with him.
But a partnership between the two centrist parties has never been considered the most likely outcome, even though they have governed together for 44 of the 72 years since World War Two.
Kurz forced last week’s election when he called an end to the current coalition with the SPO after he took over as OVP leader, and the two sides are now at loggerheads. The Social Democrats said on Monday they were planning on going into opposition.
In principle, however, any tie-up between two of the top three parties could take place. And none of those options have been fully ruled out, including a ‘coalition of losers’ between the FPO and Social Democrats.
Kurz has also said a minority government is an option if coalition talks fail.
The head of Austria’s main Jewish group earlier on Monday warned Kurz not to do business with “the wolf” of the FPO.
“When the nationalist wolf puts on a blue sheep skin it does not change its nature, only its appearance,” the head of Austria’s main Jewish group, Oskar Deutsch, said in an open letter to both centrist parties.
Blue is the colour of the FPO, which is staunchly anti-Islam but now openly courts Jewish voters, with limited success.
“If OVP and SPO believe they can tame the wolf, they are deceiving themselves,” Deutsch said.
The FPO’s Davis Lasar, a Jewish lawmaker, responded by saying in a statement: “The FPO has always been committed to the safety of Austria’s Jewish population.”
Editing by Toby Chopra and Sonya Hepinstall