Austria’s Kurz forced from office, loses no time to prepare comeback
VIENNA — Austria’s conservative leader Sebastian Kurz was ousted as chancellor in a no-confidence vote in parliament Monday, but launched his re-election campaign just hours later.
“I am still here,” Kurz told a crowd of fans and cheering People’s Party officials that were bused to Vienna.
The far right and leftist parties that voted against him had nothing to offer except a wish to get rid of him, Kurz charged.
“They cannot stop the change that we have started,” he said.
The move by the Social Democrats (SPOe), far-right Freedom Party (FPOe) and leftist Jetzt (Now) pushed Austria into uncharted political waters: It was the first successful no-confidence vote in the country’s post-World War II history.
President Alexander Alexander Van der Bellen is set to appoint a cabinet of experts to govern until early elections, which are expected to take place in September.
Kurz’s ousting came in the wake of Austria’s current crisis surrounding populist FPOe leader Heinz-Christian Strache, who was secretly recorded in 2017 on Ibiza as he offered infrastructure and media deals to a woman posing as a wealthy donor with Russian ties.
After the video was published by German media May 17, Strache stepped down, while Kurz called early elections and ended his coalition with the FPOe.
SPOe chief Pamela Rendi-Wagner charged that Kurz had failed to consult the parliamentary opposition when he exchanged FPOe ministers with conservative ministers to form a minority cabinet last week.
“This is a shameless, unbridled and irresponsible power grab,” Rendi-Wagner said.
Social Democrats held Kurz responsible for the crisis, as it was his idea to bring the FPOe to power as a junior coalition partner in 2017.
Although the 32-year-old immigration hardliner is set to be forced out, Kurz’s prospects for the Austrian elections look strong.
His OeVP won the EU vote by a wide margin on Sunday, and an opinion poll that was published on Saturday showed that 62 per cent backed the minority caretaker government Kurz formed last week.
FPOe parliamentary leader Herbert Kickl, who was ousted as interior minister last week, also charged that Kurz had taken advantage of the FPOe’s temporary problems.
“This power grab is disgusting,” Kickl said.
Kurz made international headlines when he became the European Union’s youngest leader in late 2017.
He served as foreign minister during the 2015-16 refugee crisis, when he built a coalition with south-east European countries to effectively shut the Balkan migration route from Turkey to Central Europe.
Since then, Kurz has been among the EU’s most vocal advocates of curbing immigration.
In a bizarre twist of fate, Strache won the right to take a seat in the European Parliament on Sunday, despite the corruption allegations that cost him his government job, local media reported Monday.
Strache collected enough preferential votes to catapult him from 42nd place on his party ticket to the EU legislature, according to research by Austrian broadcaster ORF and Austrian press agency APA.
However, it is unclear if Strache plans to take his seat.