GP Insights

GP Insights # 51, 29 May 2019

Austria: Chancellor Sebastian Kurz’s dramatical exit
Abigail Miriam Fernandez

What happened?

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, Europe’s youngest leader, was removed from power by a parliamentary session on the 27 of May 2019, making his tenure the shortest since World War II.

Kurz who heads Austria’s centre-right People’s Party received a no-confidence vote in Parliament after the release of a secret video of the head of Austria’s far-right Freedom Party who was a part of the Kurz’s coalition rule, engaging with a supposed Russian national.

The scandal caused an uprising in Austria where thousands took to the streets protesting calling for the resignation of several ministers. This led to Kurz calling for new elections to be held in September, until which Austria will be under a caretaker government.

What is the background?

Kurz is an immigration hardliner; he has been seen as the fresh new face of Europe’s conservative future since his rise to power in 2017. However, this was short lived. On May 17, when the German media released a video showing Hanz-Christian Strache, the head of Austria’s far-right Freedom Party making a deal with a woman who claimed to be the niece of a Russian oligarch which was filmed in 2017 in Ibiza shows Strache and a party colleague talking to the woman for six hours about how she could use her money to influence Austrian politics. However, information was released that this was a setup, it is still not clear as to who was behind this, but the plan to expose the corruption in Austrian politics was successful.

When Kurz won most of the seats in the 2017 elections, he needed a few more numbers to form the government; he chose Strache’s Freedom Party who came third to become the junior member of Austria’s coalition government, making Strache the vice chancellor. There was disapproval from the left-wing critics who were unhappy with his decision to side with such a radical party. Kirz hoped that the coalition with them would help push his agenda of immigration and economic populism forward; however, this did not materialize, and once the Ibiza video came out, things began to go wrong for Kruz. Strache resigned in 24 hours as vice chancellor and as head of his party. Kurz, withdrew his party from the governing coalition, leading to a collapse in Austria’s leadership.

The centre-left Social Democratic Party, Kurz’s main political rival saw this as an opportunity to remove him from power. They swiftly organized a no-confidence campaign to oust him from power, stating that his decision to rule with the Freedom Party and his rejection to take any responsibility for the government’s fall meant he should not lead anymore.

What does it mean?

Few believe Kurz will lose his post as head of Austria’s centre-right party, which goes to mean that he will likely contend for chancellor again. Based on the popularity of his party, he does have a good chance of reclaiming his former job. Whether the centre-left can take advantage of this opportunity is less likely. What remains next for Austrian politics remains highly unclear which leave the people worried about what might happen. 

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