Sunday 18 August 2019

Austria’s chancellor Sebastian Kurz ousted in no-confidence vote

The 32-year-old remains popular with voters and could get a stronger mandate when elections are held.

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz (Ronald Zak/AP)
Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz (Ronald Zak/AP)

By David Rising and Philipp Jenne, Associated Press

Austria’s Chancellor Sebastian Kurz has been ousted by parliament in a no-confidence vote, paving the way for a caretaker government before a new election in which the young leader and his People’s Party could emerge with a stronger mandate.

The vote came after a week of turmoil at the top in Austria.

Mr Kurz pulled the plug on his coalition with the far-right Freedom Party after a video emerged showing that party’s leader appearing to be offering lucrative government contracts to a purported Russian investor.

A new election is already planned for September, and President Alexander Van der Bellen now needs to appoint a caretaker government to serve until then.

Mr Kurz later told a cheering crowd in Vienna just hours after he lost the vote that he is looking to increase his centre-right party’s support in a September election.

To chants of “Chancellor Kurz” outside party offices, the People’s Party leader pledged that “the changes that we began two years ago will not end today”.

He said: “In the end the people will decide in September and I’m happy about that.”

We will certainly not put any stones on the path of the next government Sebastian Kurz

No-confidence votes are common in Austrian politics, but this is the first one to have succeeded in its modern history.

It also makes Mr Kurz the shortest-serving chancellor since 1945 with 525 days in office, according to the Austria Press Agency.

Mr Kurz loses the advantage of campaigning as an incumbent chancellor but remains popular and his centre-right party finished first Sunday in Austria in the European Parliament election with 34.9% support, a gain of almost eight percentage points over 2014.

He remained composed amid withering criticism from opponents in parliament ahead of the no-confidence vote, telling the body that he was “proud and satisfied with the work we have done as a government in the past year and a half”.

He pledged to work constructively with the caretaker government.

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The empty government bank, left, is empty after the government lost a confidence vote (Ronald Zak/AP)

“We will certainly not put any stones on the path of the next government,” he said.

“We will support them as much as possible.”

Mr Kurz also suggested he had no choice but to end his partnership with the Freedom Party after the video of Heinz-Christian Strache emerged.

Mr Strache has since resigned as Freedom Party leader, and his party’s ministers were replaced last week by interim technocrats until the new election.

“It was clear for me that it meant the end of the coalition,” Mr Kurz said.

Herbert Kickl, a Freedom Party politician who served as interior minister in the coalition, accused Mr Kurz of using the Strache video as a chance to consolidate his own power.

“He made the entire Freedom Party responsible for the wrong actions of two people,” Mr Kickl told parliament.

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Austrian government ministers leave the plenary hall after parliament had voted to oust Sebastian Kurz (Ronald Zak/AP)

“He tried to take advantage of a difficult situation of a government partner. He tried to enlarge his own power base.”

Social Democrat leader Pamela Rendi-Wagner, whose party brought the no-confidence vote, issued the same charge.

“This is a shameless, unrestrained and irresponsible power grab, this is what we are witnessing,” she said.

“But the power in our country is based on the people, and not you.”

Mr Kurz, 32, became Europe’s youngest leader when he was sworn in just before Christmas 2017.

It was not immediately clear when the Austrian president would appoint the new government.

PA Media

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