Austrian chancellor Faymann quits after party loses

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Berlin, May 9 (IANS) Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann has bowed to intense domestic pressure and announced his resignation, two weeks after his Social Democratic party (SPÖ) suffered heavy losses in a presidential election.

Faymann, chancellor since 2008, said he had lost the support of his party and would also be stepping down from his role as head of the SPÖ.

He had been facing ever louder calls to resign since the SPÖ’s defeat in the first round of the presidential race on 24 April, in which the anti-immigration, populist rightwing Freedom party (FPÖ) made huge gains.

The FPÖ secured 36.4 percent of the vote, excluding the SPÖ and the conservative Austrian People’s party (ÖVP) from the second round of voting for the first time since 1945, reports the Guardian.

Announcing his decision from the chancellor’s office, Faymann said: “This country needs a chancellor whose party is totally behind them. The government needs a fresh, forceful beginning. Anyone who doesn’t have this support is not up to the job.

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“A lot is at stake. This is about Austria,” he said, adding he was “very grateful to have been allowed to serve this country”.

Faymann, 56, also defended his controversial decision to end Austria’s policy of welcoming refugees. Faymann, who until a few months ago was a staunch supporter of Angela Merkel’s open door policy, made a dramatic about-turn in March, when Austrian officials imposed a cap on 80 asylum applications a day and erected a fence along part of the border with Slovenia.

Faymann said that although he was proud his country had achieved a lot by giving tens of thousands asylum, “it would have been irresponsible to have not established our own measures”.

Some within the SPÖ were angry about Faymann’s tough asylum policy, while others objected to his adamant opposition to forming coalitions with the FPÖ, whose candidate, Norbert Hofer, won the first round of the presidential vote on an anti-Islam and Eurosceptic platform.

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The minister for the chancellory, Josef Ostermayer, suggested on Saturday the party could cooperate with the FPÖ on the provincial and municipal level – where much of the political power is held in federalised Austria – but keep separate at the national level.

“It could go in this direction: the different levels – municipalities, provinces – decide for themselves if cooperation makes sense,” he told the tabloid Öesterreich.

While president of Austria is mainly a ceremonial role, Hofer has threatened to make use of a right to dissolve parliament before the 2018 elections, warning other candidates in a TV debate that “you will be surprised by what can be done [by a president]”.

A youthful 45-year-old who is partially paralysed after a paragliding accident, Hofer has campaigned for disability rights and is seen as having lent a friendly face to a party that balances virulently anti-immigration and Eurosceptic messages with leftist stances on welfare issues.

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Faymann’s resignation came two days after hundreds of protesters gathered at the Brenner Pass, on the border between Austria and Italy, to demonstrate against Austria’s crackdown on refugees and asylum seekers.

The mayor of Vienna, Michael Häupl, a staunch supporter of Faymann’s, will take over the SPÖ leadership until the next party conference.



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