Austria’s Social Democrats choose Doskozil as new leader, looking to elections expected next year

BERLIN (AP) — Austria’s center-left Social Democrats elected Hans Peter Doskozil as their new party leader Saturday, hoping to turn around the party’s fortunes ahead of parliamentary elections expected in the small Alpine nation next year.

Doskozil, the governor of the southeastern Burgenland region, won 53% of the vote among party delegates in Linz Saturday afternoon.

“It’s overwhelming,” he said in a speech after the results came in, calling it a “lifelong dream” to lead the SPOe.

Andreas Babler, the mayor of the southeastern city of Traiskirchen, came in second with 46.8% of the vote.

The SPOe, which last served in government in 2017, has struggled to consolidate support in recent years. In Austria’s last parliamentary elections in 2019, the party won 21.2% of the vote, far behind the conservative People’s Party, or OeVP.

The OeVP currently leads the national government in coalition with the Greens, a constellation that has been in place since early 2020.

Many in the SPOe blamed the party’s struggles on its previous leader, Pamela Rendi-Wagner. She came under fire for the party’s perceived lack of vision, and for the inability to translate public dissatisfaction with the OeVP into more support for the SPOe.

In an initial leadership vote among the SPOe’s members in April and May, Rendi-Wagner came in third behind Doskozil and Babler.

As the new SPOe leader, Doskozil’s task will be to revitalize the party ahead of the next round of parliamentary elections, which are expected to take place in 2024.

The SPOe is currently polling in second place behind the far-right Freedom Party, or FPOe, which has benefited from voters’ frustration with rising inflation. The FPOe has used its signature hardline rhetoric on immigration issues to gain support in recent months.

Doskozil, who is known within the SPOe for his more conservative approach to issues like immigration, is seen as a potential chance to win over people who have turned to the far right.

In his speech to delegates, Doskozil called for the party to focus on a “better” and “fairer” migration policy, saying they can reclaim the topic from the FPOe.

“We don’t need to duck these issues,” he said. “We can do better.”

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