Austria’s chancellor, Sebastian Kurz was ousted from power as a result of a no-confidence vote in Parliament last Monday. As the leader of the majority centre-right People’s Party, Kurz formed a coalition between the far-right Freedom Party (FPO) and the centre-right Social Democratic Party. This comes as a surprise after the recent Parliament elections where Kurz’s conservatives won, finishing first with 34.9 percent of the vote from a 59 percent turnout, as reported by Al Jazeera. However, according to the Austrian Press Agency, the no-confidence vote was brought by the minority opposition Social Democratic party and supported by the FPO, consequently sealing Kurz’s fate as the shortest-serving Austrian chancellor since 1945.
This result capped a turbulent ten days in Austrian politics, originating with the dissemination of a video capturing the far-right leaders of Kurz’s former government coalition allies, offering political favors to a supposed niece of a wealthy Russian oligarch. Kurz proceeded by firing Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache of the Freedom Party (FPO), who was the video’s leading protagonist on 18 May. According to the New York Times, following the removal of Mr. Strache, Kurz fired Interior Minister Herbert Kickl, a leading Freedom Party member, eliciting the remaining far-right ministers to quit in protest, and destroying his coalition.
Opposition leaders accused Mr. Kurz of abusing their trust in his government by failing to work with them. As reported by The Times, Kickl, a top Freedom Party lawmaker, accused Kurz of manipulating the circumstances of the video to consolidate his power, “he made the entire Freedom Party responsible for the wrong actions of two people,” Kickl commented. The leader of the Social Democrats, Pamela Rendi-Wagner, also voiced a similar concern, as she criticized Kurz’s reaction as a “shameless, unrestrained, and irresponsible power grab.”
Kurz’s quick dismissal of the FPO leaders associated with the video speaks highly of his moral stance toward corruption, but the quick resolution of the two coalition parties to oust the chancellor highlights an underlying air of political mistrust and instability. The interim government must be able to regain political unity in the coming months before the planned re-election in September.
Although no-confidence votes are common in Austrian politics, this is the first one to have succeeded in its modern history, especially to a publicly admired leader. Kurz drew attention from of People’s Party leaders with his charisma and intelligence about a decade ago when elected chairman of his party’s youth branch while in law school. He then became foreign minister and helped reinvent his party’s image as well as passed numerous measures to crack down on immigration in his former coalition.
A new election is already planned for September and President Alexander Van der Bellen will appoint a caretaker government to serve until then. Despite the result of the no-confidence vote, Kurz remains popular. “Mr. Kurz might end up having the last laugh,” reports Al Jazeera’s Dominic Kane from Vienna, stating that “the man who lost this vote today might end up a winner at new elections, and the parties who won this vote today might end up as losers in the long run.” Kurz vowed that he and his party would return to power with increased strength by the next election; but in order to do that, he must unite the parties under his coalition, and this begins with regaining trust within the government.