International

Austria gets new leader after corruption crisis, claims job as chancellor

By AFP

Vienna: Austria’s top diplomat Alexander Schellenberg took over as chancellor on Monday, as the ruling party tries to emerge from a corruption scandal that cost the job of one of Europe’s youngest leaders.

Sebastian Kurz, a 35-year-old once known as the “whiz kid”, said late Saturday he was leaving the top job after being embroiled in a corruption scandal.

Schalenberg, 52, will be sworn in by President Alexander Van der Belen at 1:00 PM (1100 GMT).

Kurz’s centre-right People’s Party (OeVP) and his junior Green coalition partners are hoping to move on from the scandal and complete the remainder of his term by 2024.

However, the results of last week’s events may continue to resonate.

On Wednesday, prosecutors raided several OEVP-affiliated locations, including the Chancellor and the party headquarters, alleging that between 2016 and 2018 the finance ministry’s resources were used to finance “partially manipulated opinion polls that were specifically used to serve the party-political interest”.

Prosecutors allege that an unnamed media company was paid in exchange for publishing these surveys – widely believed to be the Osterreich tabloid, which was also raided on Wednesday.

The crimes were allegedly committed to help Kurz, already a government minister, to take over the leadership of the OEVP at the start of the period under consideration.

– ‘Kurz System’ –
While Kurz initially insisted he had no reason to resign – and continues to vehemently oppose his innocence – he then reversed course, saying he was putting the country before his own interests. .

But many say Kurz succumbed to pressure from the Greens and his own party.

Critics of Kurz say that he will still head the OEVP and will now sit in parliament as the leader of his bloc – an ideal position from which to exercise influence as “shadow chancellor”.

Opposition parties say the “Kurz system” will continue through the presence of ministers loyal to them as well as high-ranking staff who are prepared to remain in office – some of whom are also suspected in corruption investigations.

Until now Schulenberg had served as foreign minister under Kurz and is widely seen as being loyal.

The latest scandal to hit Kurz follows a list of corruption allegations against the OEVP and several of its key figures, including Finance Minister Gernot Blumel.

Those allegations came after the so-called “Ibiza-Gate” case, which toppled Kurz’s first government, the coalition between the OeVP and the far-right Freedom Party (FPOe), in 2019.

Despite this Kurz came out on top in elections in the autumn of 2019 and re-entered the government, this time as head of a coalition with the Greens.

Schellenberg’s replacement as foreign minister was announced by the OEVP-controlled ministry on Monday as current Austrian ambassador to France, Michael Linhart.

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