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Austria’s Kurz leaves office, eyes return within months

May 28, 2019 at 3:06pm

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz left office on Tuesday after parliament voted out his conservative provisional government, blaming him in part for a political crisis triggered by a video sting scandal that felled his far-right deputy.

President Alexander Van der Bellen formally relieved the cabinet of its duties and asked ministers except Kurz to carry on for some days until a caretaker cabinet is chosen pending the next parliamentary election, expected in September.

Being ousted does not spell the political demise of the 32-year-old Kurz, however. He remains leader of his People’s Party and intends to lead it back to victory in September after it came first in Sunday’s European Parliament election.

“I am still here,” he told a party rally after Monday’s parliamentary no-confidence vote against his ruling coalition.

The opposition Social Democrats and Kurz’s ex-coalition ally, the far-right Freedom Party (FPO), backed the move, saying Kurz was partially responsible for the scandal that discredited FPO leader Heinz-Christian Strache.

“The disturbing image of Ibiza – however you say it, Ibiza? – has buried itself deep in our heads, not only here but also of course abroad,” Van der Bellen, 75, said at the ceremony in which he dissolved the cabinet, referring to the video filmed on that island in which Strache spoke of fixing state contracts.

Strache denies committing any crime but quit all political posts shortly after the video surfaced. The footage raised questions about money and influence peddling in Austria while shaking public trust in the country’s political parties.

Strache denies committing any crime but resigned quickly after the video surfaced, and the footage has raised questions about money and influence peddling in Austria while shaking public trust in the country’s political parties.

“It creates a distorted image of our homeland, a different image to what Austria is really like. Now it is our task to change that image step by step,” Van der Bellen said.

Vice Chancellor and Finance Minister Hartwig Loeger took over temporarily as chancellor and will represent Austria at a summit of European Union leaders in Brussels on Tuesday.

Van der Bellen must now choose a new chancellor to put together a transitional cabinet. He has said he hopes to reach a solution for a new government this week.

Van der Bellen called on all parties to show respect for each other, which the opposition will see as a swipe at Kurz for failing to make a serious effort to build bridges with them before Monday.

“It is not enough in a democracy to only speak to the others when you need them,” Van der Bellen said, adding that forging deeper relations was “hard work”.

(Reuters)