Sunday 18 August 2019

Austrian lawmakers sack Kurz as video sting fallout spreads

Voted out of office: Chancellor Sebastian Kurz (right). Photo: Reuters
Voted out of office: Chancellor Sebastian Kurz (right). Photo: Reuters

Francois Murphy and Kirsti Knolle

Austrian lawmakers voted conservative Chancellor Sebastian Kurz's government out of office yesterday, passing a motion of no confidence days after it became a caretaker administration in the aftermath of a video sting scandal.

Mr Kurz's People's Party came out on top in Sunday's European Parliament election, only a week after the sting prompted Vice-Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache, of the far-right Freedom Party (FPO), to step down and Mr Kurz to scrap the coalition between their parties.

Mr Kurz hoped to use his position as chancellor during the transition as a springboard for re-election, presenting himself as more of a victim of the political crisis set off by the video than an enabler of it who brought the far right to power.

But with the next parliamentary election expected in September, opposition parties said Mr Kurz must share the blame and voted his minority government - in which FPO ministers had been replaced by civil servants - down.

"Kurz gambled away his chances and, Mr Chancellor, you bear full responsibility," the Social Democrats' (SPO) deputy parliamentary faction head Joerg Leichtfried said in a speech, minutes before his party submitted the motion.

FPO lawmakers earlier unanimously agreed to support the SPO motion. Combined, the two parties have a majority of 103 seats in the 183-seat lower house.

Austria's president must now nominate a new chancellor to put together a caretaker government able to last until the election. While he could in principle choose Mr Kurz again, that is highly unlikely.

"To topple the government a few months before an election is something few people in this country can understand," Mr Kurz told lawmakers before the vote, presenting himself as a force for stability.

Despite the scandal, Mr Kurz's People's Party won a larger share of the vote in the European ballot than in the parliamentary election of 2017, while the SPO's share shrank.

FPO leader Mr Strache resigned from all his political posts after the video footage, which appeared to show him discussing fixing government contracts, was published by two German media outlets.

Vienna prosecutors said they were investigating the sting video "in multiple directions", but declined to provide further details. Mr Strache denies doing anything illegal.

Irish Independent

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