In the span of a week, Austria has reaffirmed that laughter and tears go together. The ouster of Chancellor, Sebastian Kurz, has been matched with the resounding triumph of his party, the centre- right Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) in Sunday’s election to the European Parliament.
That tryst with democracy has emitted a welter of signals ~ preeminently on Brexit, the environment, and the politics of Austria. The victory of his party arguably explains Kurz’s insistence that his political career is far from over in spite of having to vacate his office at least until fresh elections in September following a no-confidence vote.
“I am still here,” has been his response, as terse as it is pregnant. He has accepted the outcome of the no-confidence vote, supported by the centre-left Social Democrats (SPÖ) and farright Freedom party (FPÖ), “without anger, hatred and sadness”. It is hard not to wonder whether he has accepted his culpability. At the young age of 32, he is the latest politician to be toppled over the Ibiza scandal, so-called.
Corruption can yet topple the head of government and this is the unpalatable truth that is relevant and not the least in the subcontinent. For Austria, a country that unlike Germany is not always in the news relating to Europe, there has been a dramatic change in the political landscape following the publication of a video clip showing Kurz’s deputy, Heinz-Christian Strache, promising lucrative public contracts to a woman posing as a Russian backer, in return for help in his election campaign.
After the resignation of Strache and the dismissal of the interior minister, Herbert Kickl, the Chancellor was toppled in a vote of noconfidence after Opposition politicians said they had lost faith in his handling of the corruption scandal. The political backlash against corruption must seem remarkable to governments that are mired in the menace.
Kurz’s former coalition partners on the far-right have accused him of trying to use the scandal to consolidate his power at the helm of government, while the SPÖ has said he had not shown enough willingness to enter into a dialogue with Parliament. He became Austria’s foreign minister at 27 and could still benefit from the current turmoil in the government. In the European elections, his party emerged strongest with 34.5 per cent of the vote ~ a rise of 7.5 percentage points over the previous elections.
The Chancellor’s ouster could yet prove a bigger problem for the Austrian centre-left because they had joined forces in Parliament with the far right. Kurz is the first Chancellor in Austrian history to be removed by a no-confidence motion. ‘Ibizagate’ has jolted the government in Vienna to its foundations and the subsequent contours will be known only in September.