VIENNA – Austrian Conservative Chancellor Sebastian Kurz sounded the biggest setback in his meteoric career Monday when Parliament voted the 32-year-old government outside the office in the wake of a video game that burst its coalition to the far right.
The star of Europe's conservatives, known for its tough line on immigration, so not available just two weeks ago. But then the leader of the far right party (FPO) was caught in a video stitch that made him step down and lead the Kurz to interrupt their alliance.
Kurz became head of a Vice-Government a few days ago and hoped to use this position as a springboard for re-election and portrayed himself as more victim of the current crisis than its enablers who brought FPO to power. But the leftist resistance said he shared the blame, and FPO supported it.
"Kurz turned away his chances and Mr Chancellor, you bear the full responsibility," Deputy Parliamentary faction leader Social Democrat (SPO) leader Joerg Leichtfried said in a speech to lawmakers minutes before his party submitted a confidence proposal against the Kurz government.
The first successful confidence movement against an Austrian government since the country regained its independence in 1
Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen will now appoint a new chancellor to put together a Vice-Government that can last until the next election, expected to be held in September. While in principle he could choose Kurz again, it is very unlikely. An older statesman, like a retired president or senior judge, is more likely.
Van der Bellen must issue a statement at. (1900 GMT)
Kurz had replaced outgoing FPO ministers with officials, arguing that even though he was leading what was essentially a minority government, it represented the stability of the video scandal and ahead of a parliamentary election which was largely expected to be held in September.
He also promised a full investigation into any crimes and misdemeanors resulting from the images in which the FPO veteran Heinz-Christian Strache seemed to offer to establish government agreements for a woman constituting a Russian oligarch's niece.
Strache says he didn't do anything illegal. Vienna prosecutors say they are investigating "in several directions" in relation to the footage, even though they have refused to elaborate.
"PEOPLE WILL DECIDE"
Instead of seriously seeking to build bridges with the Social Democrats and other opposition parties, however, Kurz tried to strengthen his hand with a strong view in Sunday's European elections, and he succeeded.
Instead of punishing his people's party for his 17-month alliance with the far-right, the voters rewarded it with a larger share of the vote than in the 2017 election that brought Kurz to power. The Social Democrats (SPO), the largest opposition party, could not exploit the video scandal and lost ground.
"To overthrow the government a few months before a election is something few people in this country can understand," Kurz told lawmakers the day after what he called the party's "landslide" victory in the European Parliament's vote.
But it did not deter SPO from bringing its ambiguity to Kurz. It argued that if any ministers were to be replaced by officials to rebuild trust after the scandal, it would be all ministers, including the Kurz.
"Your actions have nothing to do with responsibility," said SPO leader Pamela Rendi-Wagner to lawmakers.
Kurz had prepared his arguments prior to the vote and said he would again seek a strength set for the vote.
"Parliament adopted today, but at the end of September in a democracy the people decide," a party rally told in Vienna after the vote. "I'm looking forward to it."
FPO's Herbert Kickl, which Kurz forced out of his position as interior minister, expects another result. "This power grip is disgusting … And the voters will also decide it in September," he told lawmakers. (Further reporting of Kirsti Knolle in Vienna and Michael Shields in Zurich; Editing of John Stonestreet and Hugh Lawson)
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