Austrian railway chief Kern chosen to succeed chancellor

Austria's Social Democrats have chosen national railway chief Christian Kern to succeed Werner Faymann as the next chancellor and party chief, interim party leader Michael Haeupl said Friday.

"A decision has been made," Vienna's mayor Haeupl said on the sidelines of a meeting of party leaders.

"The party unanimously stands behind the future federal party chairman," he said after the meeting.

Party executives would make a formal decision on Tuesday, he added.

The 50-year-old Austrian Federal Railways executive is expected to be sworn in by President Heinz Fischer next week, before addressing parliament on Wednesday.

Haeupl said he expects the new chancellor to reunite the party, which has lost voter support in nearly every election over the past eight years.

The Social Democrats are split along those who favour Austria's current tough immigration stance and those who want a more humane policy.

At the same time, the party does not have a clear strategy for countering the far-right Freedom Party, which has led opinion polls for the past year.

While trade unionists want to scrap the doctrine that the party will never cooperate with the Freedom Party, others point out that attempts to win back voters by introducing immigration restrictions have had absolutely no effect.

Faymann stepped down amid these internal disputes, while worsening job data and slow economic growth made for trying times during his tenure.

Kern has previous experience as a Social Democratic spokesman and as a manager in state-owned firms, but he has never held a senior political post.

Kern's policy plans are still unknown.

He made headlines last year when the railways transported and sheltered thousands of refugees, and he criticized the government for its slow reaction to the surging arrivals, but he has not shared his views on Austria's recent efforts to curb immigration.

Kern said in an interview late last year that Austria needs a clearer profile and vision in order to stay economically competitive.

The Social Democrats form a coalition with the centre-right People's Party.

"He is new and does not carry any political baggage," Vice Chancellor and People's Party chief Reinhold Mitterlehner said about Kern.

Mitterlehner reiterated his call for a new policy package to deregulate the economy, in order to make Austria more competitive.

Last update: Fri, 13/05/2016 - 17:12

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