Austrian Chancellor Set To Lose No-Confidence Vote
Austria’s Chancellor Sebastian Kurz was set Monday to lose a no-confidence vote in parliament, which will see him removed from office over a corruption scandal that brought down his coalition government.
Norbert Hofer, chief of the far-right Freedom Party (FPOe), said Monday that his party “will support” the motion, which is also backed by the main opposition Social Democrats (SPOe).
The move comes just after Kurz celebrated a big win for his conservative People’s Party (OeVP) in Sunday’s European elections, which is projected to gain 34.9 per cent of the vote and two extra European parliament seats.
It comes in the wake of the so-called “Ibiza-gate” scandal, which saw FPOe leader and Vice-Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache resign from both posts after he was caught appearing to offer public contracts in return for campaign help from a fake Russian backer.
That led to Kurz ending his coalition with the FPOe and calling early elections for the autumn, but the opposition says the 32-year-old leader must also take responsibility for the scandal.
The no-confidence vote against Kurz and his government is set to take place in a special sitting of parliament later Monday, making him the shortest-serving chancellor, as well as the first in post-war Austrian history to be removed in this fashion.
While the environmental Jetzt party is also expected to back the motion against the chancellor, the liberal NEOS party said it would be voting against it to avoid further instability.
Once Kurz’s government is removed, it would be up to President Alexander Van der Bellen to appoint experts to lead the government and all the ministries until the elections.
The far-right, meanwhile, seemed to have suffered a setback in Sunday’s vote over “Ibiza-gate”, falling from 19.7 per cent to 17.2 per cent and losing one of their four MEPs.
The scandal erupted following the publication on May 17 of hidden-camera recordings filmed in a luxury villa on the holiday island of Ibiza a few months before Austria’s last parliamentary elections in 2017.
Amid a welter of embarrassing comments, Strache appeared to allude to a scheme channelling political donations through FPOe-linked foundations in order to avoid legal scrutiny.
After Strache’s resignation, Kurz also sacked FPOe interior minister Herbert Kickl, arguing he could not oversee any possible investigation into his own party’s wrongdoing.
FPOe ministers responded by walking out of the government en masse, leading to Kurz appointing experts to take their place in an interim government.
Paragon of stability
When he first became chancellor in late 2017, Kurz was widely hailed on the European right as someone who could successfully tap into surging anti-immigration sentiment while projecting a polished demeanour.
Since the crisis broke, he has projected himself as a paragon of stability in a turbulent political climate, and analysts say this will be a key message for him to use.
But even before the current crisis, Kurz found himself constantly having to bat away criticism for alleged extremist sympathies among FPOe members.
The opposition has placed the blame for the current debacle squarely at the feet of Kurz himself for having invited the far-right into government in the first place, saying he had ample warning of the unsuitability of the FPOe for the government.
Kurz has trod a fine line in his statements since the crisis broke, admitting he found the FPOe’s antics “hard to swallow” but insisting he had no other choice.
“There was no other party which was ready to form a coalition with us,” he told journalists on Thursday when asked whether he regretted the coalition.