Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann today (9 May) stepped down as leader of the centrist coalition government and as head of his Social Democratic Party (SPO), two weeks after the SPO suffered a disastrous result in presidential elections.
Faymann, chancellor since 2008, had been under pressure from some in his party over his tough asylum policy and from others for wanting to keep a ban on forming coalitions with the anti-immigration and eurosceptic Freedom Party (FPO), which is leading opinion polls.
“To have a majority (in the party) is not enough,” a spokeswoman for Faymann quoted him as saying at a hastily convened news conference.
The SPO, which rules neutral Austria in a coalition with the center-right People’s Party (OVP), suffered a major defeat last month in first-round voting for the next president when both parties scraped together just 23%.
The candidate for the far-right Freedom Party (FPO), running on an anti-Islam and eurosceptic platform, won more than a third of the votes, sending him into a run-off for the largely ceremonial role with a former Green Party leader on May 22.
The FPO regularly attracts more than 30% in opinion polls, well ahead of the two ruling parties that have dominated postwar politics. The next parliamentary elections are due to be held by 2018.
The spokeswoman for Faymann, 56, said she did not know what would happen to the coalition government. A spokesman for the head of the People’s Party, Vice Chancellor Reinhold Mitterlehner, was not immediately available for comment.
Austria got around 90,000 asylum requests in 2015 after large numbers of migrants and refugees, many fleeing conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, arrived in the staunchly Roman Catholic country of 8.5 million people.
Under Faymann the country has put in jeopardy the efforts of the European Commission to find a common solution to the unprecedented migrant crisis. Austria announced that it would cap the number of people allowed to claim asylum this year, and that it would send excess refugees back, or deport them to the neighbouring countries through which they came.