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Austrian chancellor set to face no-confidence vote next week

May 22, 2019

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Vienna: Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen (left) shakes hands with Chancellor Sebastian Kurz before their meeting at Hofburg palace on Tuesday.—AP
Vienna: Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen (left) shakes hands with Chancellor Sebastian Kurz before their meeting at Hofburg palace on Tuesday.—AP

BERLIN: Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz is set to face a no-confidence vote in parliament next week after his governing coalition collapsed over a corruption scandal.

Speaker Wolfgang Sobotka, a member of Kurz’s conservative People’s Party, set a special session of the legislature for Monday. Opposition parties wanted it held this week, but Sobotka said he wants to “give space to the EU election campaign,” the Austria Press Agency reported on Tuesday. Austria elects European Parliament lawmakers on Sunday.

The opposition Now party has drawn up a no-confidence motion seeking to oust Kurz before an early national election expected in September.

Kurz called for that election after far-right Freedom Party leader Heinz-Christian Strache, who was his vice chancellor, resigned on Saturday. Strache was shown on video appearing to offer favours to a purported Russian investor during a meeting two years ago on the Spanish island of Ibiza.

Kurz’s party holds only 61 of the 183 seats in parliament. It isn’t yet clear whether the second- and third-biggest parties, the centre-left Social Democrats and the Freedom Party, will vote to remove him depriving the 32-year-old of the advantage of going into the national election as the incumbent.

That would leave President Alexander Van der Bellen to name an interim chancellor.

While Kurz remains in office Van der Bellen has asked him to propose interim ministers to replace the Freedom Party politicians who have left the government including the interior, defence and labour ministers.

The president said Foreign Minister Karin Kneissl, who was nominated by the Freedom Party but isn’t a party member, has agreed to stay on.

Van der Bellen, a liberal whose position puts him above the cut-and-thrust of politics, said the interim ministers will have to be “impeccable experts.” “Let us not forget that there has been a massive betrayal of trust as a result of this disturbing image of immorality from Ibiza,” he said after meeting Kurz.

Strache has said he was set up through illegal surveillance but conceded his behaviour was “stupid, irresponsible and a mistake.” On Tuesday, he sounded a combative note.

Published in Dawn, May 22nd, 2019