Kurz becomes youngest Austrian ex-chancellor
Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz (pictured) has lost a no-confidence vote yesterday (Monday), which will bring an early general election.
The 32-year-old said his right-of-centre People’s Party would return to power, although he might suffer from his decision to go into government with the far-right Freedom Party.
The successful no-confidence vote could backfire for the opposition parties with opinion polls suggesting Austrian voters did not want Kurz removed from office following the Freedom Party scandal.
The left-of-centre Social Democrats and Freedom MPs backed the no-confidence motion. The decision appears especially risky for the Freedom Party as it might find the September election challenging given the behaviour of its disgraced leader, Heinz-Christian Strache.
The Social Democrats have 52 of the 183 lower-house seats and Freedom has 51 MPs. The liberal NEOS Party backed Kurz in a reported bid to avoid instability.
The Social Democrats said Kurz should never have formed a coalition with the populist Freedom Party.
Kurz is the first Austrian chancellor since 1945 to lose a no-confidence vote.
The no-confidence motion came hours after the People’s Party surged to a decisive victory in the European parliamentary elections, winning a record 35 per cent of the vote. The opposition failed to capitalise on the Ibiza video of the former vice-chancellor Strache that has brought down the government.
But Kurz’s personal popularity appears to have held up and the People’s Party gained nearly 8 percentage points since 2014 in the European election.
Strache was filmed offering a woman who pretended to be the niece of Russian oligarch government road-building contracts if she bought a controlling interest in Austria’s principal newspaper, Kroner Zeitung, and ensure it gave Freedom its electoral backing.
He said that numerous reporters would need to be “pushed” from the newspaper and that he wanted to “build a media landscape like [Viktor] Orban”, in reference to Hungary’s populist prime minister who has crushed media independence.
An Austrian general election is already planned for September but now President Alexander Van der Bellen must appoint a caretaker government in the interim.
He could name senior civil servants, retired politicians or judges to command respect across the party spectrum.
The president could also let Kurz continue as acting chancellor until after the EU leaders’ summit today in Brussels.
Kurz, who at 31 was the world’s youngest head of government when he was elected, is the shortest-serving chancellor since 1945 with 525 days in office.
The youngest ever ex-chancellor, Sebastian Kurz. Picture credit: Kremlin