Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz loses confidence vote

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and his government have lost a no-confidence vote following a corruption scandal prompted by a secretly-filmed video.

Kurz’s former coalition partners from the far-right Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ) said they would support the motion of no-confidence put forward by the Socialist Party (SPÖ) on Monday afternoon. There was no official count for the vote. Instead, a majority of deputies in the chamber stood to indicate their unwillingness to put further trust in Kurz.

Kurz, who at 32 is one of the world’s youngest leaders, is the first Austrian chancellor since World War II to be defeated by a motion of no-confidence.

President Alexander Van der Bellen must now dismiss Kurz and appoint a new caretaker government until snap elections can be held in September.

In a televised address Monday night, Van der Bellen named current Vice-Chancellor Hartwig Löger as Kurz’s replacement. He also said he intends to dismiss the government on Tuesday morning and at the same time appoint them to continue carrying out their work in the following days while he finds a proper replacement.

“I will make sure that the new chancellor will be someone who has broad trust within Parliament, also to avoid a situation like today,” the President said. “I hope that this will not take longer than a week.”

Earlier in the evening, Kurz asked his supporters to respect Parliament’s decision before adding that he would support the interim government.

“The opposition always had the goal to get rid of Kurz. And today, they succeeded,” Kurz told his supporters who were chanting his name in the rain.

“I ask you to recognize this decision, it’s a democratic decision and there is no room for anger, sadness or hatred,” he added.

Kurz also asked voters to support the coming election race. “I ask you to spend the next month [campaigning] for the support of the people and at the end the people will decide in September.”

The vote was triggered after Kurz’s government became embroiled in a political crisis over an undercover recording.

A secretly-filmed video emerged recently of Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache — of the far-right Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ) — appearing to offer state contracts to a woman falsely claiming to be the niece of a Russian oligarch.

Strache resigned after the tape was revealed by Germany’s Der Spiegel news magazine and Süddeutsche Zeitung daily newspaper over a week ago.

Filmed in Ibiza two years ago, it is not known who recorded the video or set up the meeting. Strache denied any wrongdoing but apologized to “everyone I have disappointed with my behavior.”

The scandal has been the biggest crisis Austria’s governing coalition has faced since forming in 2017. Kurz’s conservative People’s Party (ÖVP) was quick to distance itself from its coalition partners.

Pamela Rendi-Wagner, the head of the SPÖ, told parliament before Monday’s vote that “irresponsible behavior is the foundation of distrust.”

Addressing Kurz directly, she said, “You have decided to walk on this path alone, and you have chosen to leave the path of stability that the people in this country would need so much.”

Rendi-Wagner continued, “Austrians have wished for you to behave responsibly, and you have not lived up to that.”

While Kurz was ousted on Monday, he could return in September when Austrians go to the polls.

He remains a popular politician in the country, enjoying a successful night just hours before as results from the European parliamentary elections came in. The ÖVP comfortably won garnering 34.5% of the vote — a 7.5% increase from 2014.

Europe’s populist parties had been expected to triumph at the EU elections. Austria’s FPÖ is in an alliance with Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini’s League but the party appeared to have lost support, according to an exit poll for CNN affiliate ORF.

Journalist Denise Hruby reported from Vienna while Lauren Said-Moorhouse wrote from London.