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Austrian Chancellor resigns hours after ex-leader of political party leaves – National

Austrian Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg is stepping down to make way for whoever takes the leadership of his Conservative party, he said on Thursday, just hours after party strongman Sebastian Kurz said he was quitting completely politics.

Sebastian Kurz stunned Austria and left a void in his People’s Party (OVP) with his announcement. He had resigned as chancellor in October at the behest of his coalition partner, the Greens, after prosecutors opened an investigation for corruption, although he remained party leader and MP.

Schallenberg, a career diplomat, has been in office for less than two months since taking over from Kurz.

Several Austrian media have reported that Home Secretary Karl Nehammer, a hardline Kurz immigration advocate, will most likely become party leader and chancellor when the OVP leadership meets on Friday to choose the party. successor to Kurz.

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“I firmly believe that the two posts – head of government and head of the Austrian party with the most votes – should soon be filled again by the same person,” Schallenberg said in a statement, adding that he did not want to be party leader. .

“I therefore make my post of chancellor available as soon as the course is set within the party.”

Schallenberg is widely seen as an accidental chancellor with no power base of his own and he has been pursued by claims that he is little more than Kurz’s puppet keeping the seat warm while his political master seeks to clear his own name. .

Kurz, 35, is one of 10 people suspected of breach of trust, corruption and bribery in a case in which prosecutors allege public funds were used to secretly sponsor manipulated polls that were published with the aim of helping Kurz to become party leader and then chancellor in 2017.

Kurz denies any wrongdoing.


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Kurz took his side by surprise Thursday morning by announcing he was quitting politics, releasing both his post as party leader and his seat in parliament.

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He has been the dominant and most polarizing figure in Austrian politics since 2017, when he became leader of the OVP and then chancellor, winning parliamentary elections and forming a coalition with the extreme Freedom Party (FPO) law.

“I am neither a saint nor a criminal,” Kurz said in a media statement.

He said he plans to spend more time with his girlfriend and their newborn son.

Kurz said he felt “kicked out” because of harsh criticism during his tenure as chancellor. He was recently criticized for not doing more to prevent the latest wave of COVID-19 infections, which has caused the current nationwide lockdown. He admitted to making mistakes.

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He led his party in two parliamentary elections in 2017 and 2019, becoming chancellor after both. But his time in government was mired in scandals, including the corruption investigation and his removal by parliament in 2019 after a video trapped the then FPO leader and their coalition collapsed. .

His OVP is one of the main traditional parties in Austria, but under Kurz it has largely built itself around him, leaving no obvious choice to succeed him as a strongman. Kurz did not support anyone to succeed him.

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Most polls have shown the OVP to have a lead of at least 10 points over its closest rival, the opposition Social Democrats, until Kurz was placed under investigation in October. Polls now show the two parties neck and neck.

At the same time, an early election is unlikely, as the latest polls suggest the OVP and the Greens would likely lose seats. This parliament is to last until the fall of 2023.

(Report by François Murphy Editing by Alison Williams, Mark Heinrich and Angus MacSwan)

© 2021 The Canadian Press