VIENNA: Austria’s Chancellor Sebastian Kurz on Monday lost a no-confidence vote in parliament, removing him and his cabinet from office over a corruption scandal that brought has down his coalition government.
“An application (by the opposition Social Democrats) has been accepted, so he has lost the confidence” of parliament, deputy speaker Doris Bures said.
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% 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.
‘Unprecedented power grab’
The no-confidence vote against Kurz and his government took place in a special sitting of parliament with more than half of MPs withdrawing their support, making him the shortest-serving chancellor, as well as the first in post-war Austrian history to be removed in this fashion.
Social Democrats (SPOe) leader Pamela Rendi-Wagner accused Kurz of an unprecedented “uncurbed and shameless power grab” when bringing forward the motion against him. Kurz’s former partner, the FPOe, also supported the motion.
It is now up to President Alexander Van der Bellen to appoint experts to lead the government and all the ministries until the elections.
Speaking in parliament before the vote, Kurz accused the opposition of causing instability with the motion against his government, but said if the vote succeeded, he would ensure an orderly transition to whoever is appointed next.
The far-right, meanwhile, seemed to have suffered a setback in Sunday’s vote over “Ibiza-gate”, falling from 19.7% to 17.2% 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.