Austrian Rail Chief Kern to be Sworn in as Chancellor Next Week

  • President Fischer schedules Kern’s inauguration for Tuesday
  • Social Democrats seek to re-emphasize social, labor policies

Christian Kern, the head of Austria’s railway system, will be sworn in as Austria’s next chancellor on Tuesday after receiving endorsements from his Social Democratic Party’s acting head and from the conservative vice chancellor on Friday.

President Heinz Fischer will inaugurate Kern on May 17 at 5 p.m. in his offices in Vienna, he said in a statement on Friday. Kern’s party’s executive body is set to appoint him as chairman earlier that day, according to Vienna Mayor Michael Haeupl, the Social Democrats’ caretaker leader. Kern succeeds Werner Faymann who stepped down from both posts on Monday.

“The party is backing Kern unanimously,” Haeupl told journalists in Vienna on Friday after meeting senior officials. “What’s really important to us is that the economic development and the labor market, everything to do with social issues, will be re-emphasized in the future.”

Vice Chancellor Reinhold Mitterlehner of the conservative People’s Party praised Kern’s managerial qualities, signaling the candidate won’t face any pushback from his party’s junior coalition partner.

Electoral Defeats

Faymann, also a Social Democrat, stepped down as chancellor on Monday after losing the support of his party following a string of electoral defeats, most recently in Austria’s vote for who will succeed President Fischer, whose term expires in July. The runoff election later this month threatens further political uncertainty with the anti-Islamic, Euroskeptic Freedom Party seeking to build on its first-round success to take the post.

The Freedom Party’s Norbert Hofer faces Green Party-backed Alexander Van der Bellen on May 22 with polls showing the race is too close to call.

Mitterlehner said earlier this week that he expected the new chancellor, whoever it is, to stick to agreed policies, especially on the refugee crisis. Kern could lead his first government meeting and speak in parliament for the first time on Wednesday. Haeupl said it would up to Kern to exchange the Social Democratic ministers in the government.

Kern is “a very well-qualified manager, and this could have a good influence on politics and the government,” Mitterlehner told Oe1 radio in Brussels. “He has the benefit of being new and unencumbered.”

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