October 18. 2021. 5:57

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Austria’s new chancellor survives no-confidence vote days after Kurz resignation

Austrian chancellor Alexander Schallenberg: opposition leaders have called the government reshuffle a ‘farce’ and claim former chancellor Sebastian Kurz continues to ‘pull all the strings’. Photograph: Christian Bruna/EPA


Austria’s government has survived a parliamentary no-confidence vote just days after the resignation of Sebastian Kurz as chancellor amid an investigation by state prosecutors into political corruption.

The Green party, the junior coalition partner of Mr Kurz’s moderate conservative People’s Party, voted to support the new chancellor, Alexander Schallenberg.

Mr Kurz, the 35-year-old who was once feted as the future of European conservatism, was not present at Tuesday’s vote. He is to remain leader of the People’s Party and is due to take over as head of its parliamentary faction this week – leading many to dub him the new “shadow chancellor”. He will continue to sit in the cabinet.

Austria had been in a state of political crisis since last Wednesday, when police raids across Vienna at ministries revealed an investigation by prosecutors into bribery and perjury in government.

Mr Kurz, who resigned as chancellor on Saturday, is a key suspect in the investigation. Prosecutors allege he was entangled in a conspiracy to direct taxpayer money towards media organisations in exchange for positive coverage. He has denied any wrongdoing.

Lambast

In an intense five-hour sitting of parliament on Tuesday, opposition deputies lined up to lambast the “Kurz system”. One MP fainted at the rostrum.

Addressing parliament, Mr Schallenberg, who was sworn into office on Monday, appealed for unity and an end to politicking. “If I have a message to give today, it is that our hand is outstretched towards our coalition partner to overcome the rifts,” he said.

He made clear that Mr Kurz still had his support. “Of course, I will proceed in close consultation with [the] former chancellor,” he said.

Vice-chancellor and Green party leader Werner Kogler praised Mr Kurz. “I want to state that I appreciate [his] move and that he deserves respect,” he told MPs, to jeers from the opposition.

The Greens had indicated last week that if Mr Kurz did not resign, they would contemplate forming a politically disparate coalition with three other opposition parties to shut the People’s Party out of power.

Diluted

Analysts said that to have done so would have been a risky and potentially unpopular strategy and would have significantly diluted the Greens’ role in any future government.

“The government reshuffle is a farce,” said Pamela Rendi-Wagner, leader of the opposition Social Democratic Party. “One person continues to pull all the strings. That person is Kurz.”

Herbert Kickl, leader of the right-wing populist Freedom Party who Mr Kurz forced out as interior minister in 2019 after a scandal that ended the first Kurz government, said that since the raids “Austria knows one thing for certain: that abuse of power, serious systematic corruption, manipulation of the population, perfidy and hypocrisy are what hold the [People’s Party] together at its core”.