Media: Austrian rail chief Kern primed to become new chancellor

Austria's Social Democrats plan to make national railways chief Christian Kern the country's new chancellor, Austrian media reported Thursday.

Interim party chief Michael Haeupl finally joined regional Social Democratic party leaders in supporting 50-year-old Kern, who heads Austrian Federal Railways, public broadcaster ORF and several newspapers reported, citing unnamed party insiders.

The party has been in a hurry to find a successor to Werner Faymann, who stepped down this week amid an internal party spat about immigration policy and about a future strategy to counter the rising far-right Freedom Party.

If Kern is formally chosen by senior party figures in a meeting that is scheduled for Tuesday, he is to be sworn in by President Heinz Fischer, according to party officials.

"He is an absolute pro, and he will do a good job in managing the republic, just as he has done a good job managing the Austrian Federal Railways," said Hans Niessl, a party heavyweight who governs the province of Burgenland.

Kern is also set to become new party chief, at a time when the Social Democrats are in a deep crisis.

They have trailed behind the right-wing Freedom Party in polls for the past year, and they lost voter support in 19 out of 21 regional and national elections during Faymann's eight-year tenure.

Kern is a former business journalist who entered politics in the early 1990s to work as a spokesman in government and in the Social Democratic faction in parliament.

However, he soon switched to management jobs, first at Austria's largest energy provider Verbund.

He has led the state-owned railways and its 40,000 employees since 2010.

His political views are largely unknown, although he made headlines last year when he decided that the railways would help to transport thousands of refugees across Austria at the peak of the migration crisis.

The new chancellor will not only face policy challenges such as high unemployment and slow economic growth.

He will also have to come to terms with the Social Democrat's conservative coalition partner, the People's Party, which has demanded a tough migration stance and business-friendly policies, as a condition for continuing the cooperation.

Last update: Thu, 12/05/2016 - 15:46
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