VIENNA (AP) — Top officials from Austria's senior government coalition party on Friday agreed to nominate the state railways head as chancellor following the abrupt resignation of the man who led both the party and the country.
The search by the Social Democrats for a new Austrian leader began just days ago, after Werner Faymann stepped down as chancellor, leaving the party smarting from a string of electoral losses to the right and split between proponents and opponents of Faymann's hard-line migrant policies.
Railway head Christian Kern was to be formally put forward Friday by the party's senior officials after an underdog rival bowed out on Thursday.
Relatively untested in politics but nationally recognized for his successful reorganization of the struggling railway, the 50-year old still faces potential hurdles in succeeding Faymann.
The centrist People's Party, the junior coalition partner, has signaled that it will accept only a replacement who backs the tough migrant restrictions agreed to by Faymann— an issue Kern has stayed silent on.
And even if he is accepted by the People's Party, with the Social Democrats in disarray and on a prolonged losing streak, he has a tough job ahead.
Kern's party once commanded absolute majorities but has seen its popularity steadily drop since the early 1980s. The latest blow came last month when the Social Democratic candidate was drubbed in the first round of presidential elections by a rival from the right-wing Euroskeptic Freedom Party.
Freedom Party candidate Norbert Hofer received 35 percent of the vote in the April 24 first round and is the favorite going into the May 22 runoff.
The People's Party — the other dominant post-World War II political force — is also seeing losses, reflecting the eroding support for traditional parties mirrored elsewhere in Europe in favor of populist and Euroskeptic parties.
The Freedom Party's strongest card is strong anti-migrant sentiment within Austria. But it also has benefited from perceptions that the establishment parties are out of touch over other issues, including unemployment and terrorism.
For pro-European politicians, it's a worrying sign of what could happen in the country's next general election, which must be held within two years, and the latest indication of the strength of anti-EU parties in Europe.