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Austria’s Kurz ousted in no-confidence vote amid video scandal chaos

Austria's conservative leader Sebastian Kurz was ousted as chancellor in a vote of no confidence on Monday, as the opposition used a crisis over a covert video to create a level playing field ahead of upcoming elections.

Vienna, 27 May 2019 (dpa/MIA) – Austria’s conservative leader Sebastian Kurz was ousted as chancellor in a vote of no confidence on Monday, as the opposition used a crisis over a covert video to create a level playing field ahead of upcoming elections.

The move by the Social Democrats (SPOe), far-right Freedom Party (FPOe) and leftist Jetzt (Now) pushed Austria into uncharted political waters: It was the first successful no-confidence vote in the country’s post-World War II history.

According to the constitution, President Alexander Alexander Van der Bellen now has to appoint a cabinet of experts to govern until early elections, which are expected to take place in September.

Kurz has emerged as the loser even though Austria’s current crisis centres on populist FPOe leader Heinz-Christian Strache, who was secretly recorded in 2017 on Ibiza as he offered infrastructure and media deals to a woman posing as a wealthy donor with Russian ties.

After the video was published by German media on May 17, Strache stepped down, while Kurz called early elections and ended his coalition with the FPOe.

SPOe chief Pamela Rendi-Wagner charged that Kurz had failed to consult the parliamentary opposition when he exchanged FPOe ministers with conservative ministers to form a minority cabinet last week.

“This is a shameless, unbridled and irresponsible power grab,” Rendi-Wagner said.

Social Democrats held Kurz responsible for the crisis, as it was his idea to bring the FPOe to power as a junior coalition partner in 2017.

Although the 32-year-old immigration hardliner is set to be forced out, Kurz’s prospects for the Austrian elections look strong.

His OeVP won the EU vote by a wide margin on Sunday, and an opinion poll that was published on Saturday showed that 62 per cent backed the minority caretaker government Kurz formed last week.

The no-confidence vote “is something that no one on this country can understand,” Kurz told parliament, pointing to the outcome of the EU poll.

“We will not place any obstacles in the path of the next government, and we will support is as best as we can,” Kurz said about the next caretaker government.

FPOe parliamentary leader Herbert Kickl, who was ousted as interior minister last week, also charged that Kurz had taken advantage of the FPOe’s temporary problems.

“This power grab is disgusting,” Kickl said.

Kurz made international headlines when he became the European Union’s youngest leader in late 2017.

He served as foreign minister during the 2015-2016 refugee crisis, when he built a coalition with south-east European countries to effectively shut the Balkan migration route from Turkey to Central Europe.

Since then, Kurz has been among the EU’s most vocal advocates of curbing immigration.

In a bizarre twist of fate, Strache won the right to take a seat in the European Parliament on Sunday, despite the corruption allegations that cost him his government job, local media reported Monday.

Strache collected enough preferential votes to catapult him from 42nd place on his party ticket to the EU legislature, according to research by Austrian broadcaster ORF and Austrian press agency APA.

However, it is unclear if Strache plans to take his seat.

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