The Freedom Party (FPOe) leadership unanimously named the 52-year-old veteran politician to replace Norbert Hofer, who resigned as head last week after months of infighting and tensions with Kickl.
Kickl, who led the interior ministry while his party was part of the Alpine country’s ruling coalition from 2017 to 2019, promised a “new start”.
Kickl is the party’s longtime ideologue who, along with the Islamophobic rhetoric, has railed against coronavirus restrictions.
He has made fiery addresses at anti-lockdown demonstrations, accusing the government of “dancing on the edge of lunacy” in one such speech in March.
Engulfed by a corruption scandal in 2019 that brought down the coalition government, the FPOe won just over 16 percent in the national elections that year, but has seen its popularity edge up slightly to closer to 20 percent according to recent polls amid coronavirus lockdown fatigue.
A party convention later this month is expected to endorse Kickl’s nomination.
Hofer, who narrowly failed in his 2016 bid to become the first far-right president of an EU member state, took over as head of the party in 2019 when Heinz-Christian Strache, then Austria’s vice chancellor, was forced to resign.
Secretly recorded footage in a luxury villa in Ibiza showed Strache offering a woman posing as the niece of a Russian oligarch state contracts in exchange for campaign help for the FPOe.
The so-called “Ibiza-gate” scandal brought down the first coalition of Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, an alliance of his centre-right People’s Party (OeVP) and the FPOe.
Kurz has headed a coalition with the Greens since early 2020.