Austrian Government Vows Agenda Overhaul After Voters’ Warning

  • Chancellor announces more police spending amid refugee wave
  • Opposition candidates beat coalition in presidential ballot

Austria’s government vowed to overhaul its political agenda and explain its policies more clearly to win back voters that humiliated the ruling parties’ candidates in the first round of presidential elections, Chancellor Werner Faymann said.

The government coalition will present a new work program next month, including more spending on police and the military and on integrating immigrants into the job market, Faymann said in Vienna on Tuesday. The anti-immigrant Freedom Party’s candidate won the most votes in Sunday’s election on a platform demanding to “defend Austria” against foreigners and refugees.

“The people have sent us a clear warning,” Faymann told reporters after the weekly government meeting. “We must make visible that we were elected to work and that’s what we do.”

The euro nation’s government was thrown into turmoil on Sunday after Freedom’s Norbert Hofer unexpectedly placed first in the ballot ahead of Green Party-backed Alexander van der Bellen. The face-off of the two opposition politicians on May 22 underscores the anti-establishment mood among voters in a region still grappling with the worst refugee crisis since World War II.

Faymann and Vice Chancellor Reinhold Mitterlehner identified education and research, jobs, housing and pensions as the main policy areas they would focus on but didn’t elaborate on what would change. Their parties, Faymann’s center-left Social Democrats and the center-right People’s Party, failed to agree on wide-ranging pension reform earlier this year and are continually bickering about education.

Both declined to give a general endorsement for the second round of the presidential election. While Faymann said he’d personally would vote for van der Bellen, Mitterlehner declined to say whom he’d back.

The Austrian president has a largely ceremonial role. Still, he or she can dismiss the government and call fresh elections. Hofer has already said he would consider that if elected next month.

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