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Austria: four questions on the surprise resignation of Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, targeted by an investigation for corruption

This corruption scandal cost him his job. Sebastian Kurz announced that he left his duties on Saturday, October 9 to ensure “stability” of the country while refuting “false accusations”, a few days after the opening of an investigation against him for corruption. The Austrians should know the name of their new chancellor on Sunday evening. Franceinfo looks back on the reasons and consequences of his resignation.

1Who is Sebastian Kurz?

Now 35 years old, Sebastian Kurz had become, at the end of 2017, the youngest elected leader on the planet by acceding to the chancellery. He entered the government in 2013, at the age of 27, as Secretary of State. He is a member of the Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP), a conservative party.

In May 2019, a first corruption scandal named “Ibizagate” had shaken up his government. Sebastian Kurz had spectacularly managed to overcome this crisis. In January 2020, he had regained his place as chancellor by forming a coalition with the party of the Greens.

2What is he suspected of?

Sebastian Kurz is believed to have used government funds in the past to secure favorable media coverage. According to the prosecution, between 2016 and 2018, laudatory articles and opinion studies “partially manipulated” would have been published in exchange for the purchase of advertising space by the Department of Finance, managed at the time by the Conservatives.

The former chancellor, nine other suspects and three organizations are under investigation for various offenses related to this case. Searches took place on Wednesday, in particular at the headquarters of Austrian People’s Party and the chancellery.

The prosecutors’ case is based on a series of telephone messages. Pending the outcome of the investigation, Sebastian Kurz remains at the head of the Conservative Party and will sit in Parliament.

3Why did he quit?

Sebastian Kurz is swept away by the scandal for the second time. “It would be irresponsible to slide into months of chaos or deadlock”, he said on Saturday, in front of the press in Vienna, explaining to withdraw to “stability” of the country while refuting “false accusations”.

“I want to give way to avoid chaos”, he added. Since the announcement Wednesday by the prosecution of the opening of an investigation against him for corruption, Sebastian Kurz was under pressure to withdraw. He had so far refused, denouncing allegations “manufactured”. But he finally preferred to take the lead when he was under the threat, Tuesday, of a new impeachment by Parliament.

The leader of the Greens, Werner Kogler, who govern in coalition with the conservatives, welcomed, on Saturday, “an appropriate decision”. THEThe leader of the environmentalists had judged, the day before, that Sebastian Kurz was “more apt to perform his duties”, following interviews with the leaders of the other parties. Conservatives (ÖVP) must now nominate someone “irreproachable“, he had estimated.

4Who could replace him?

Austria awaits the appointment of its new chancellor on Sunday. All eyes are on Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg, a relative of chancellor outgoing.

This 52-year-old diplomat, whose name was proposed on Saturday by Sebastian Kurz to succeed him, met Austrian President Alexander Van der on Sunday Bellen. Before this interview, Alexander Schallenberg evoked “a particularly difficult time and task, complicated for all of us”, welcoming the fact that his party, the ÖVP, “an incredible degree of responsibility towards this country”.

The foreign minister had previously held talks with the vice-chancellor, Werner Kogler. The latter let it be known on Saturday evening that he would support the nomination of Alexander Schallenberg in the Chancellery, in order to keep the Conservative-Green coalition in power. “Above all, I am happy that there is a possibility of opening a new chapter in the work of the coalition government”, he added. The rest of the opposition was less enthusiastic, deploring the continuation of the “Kurz system”.

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