Kurz resigns after corruption probe

By Griffin Brammer, Staff Writer

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz resigned Saturday amid corruption allegations. Former foreign minister Alexander Schallenberg succeeded Kurz as chancellor on Monday.

Kurz stepped down after Austrian authorities raided the offices and headquarters of his Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) on suspicion of bribery and breach of trust. The Austrian Green Party, the ÖVP’s junior coalition partner, threatened to leave the coalition if Kurz was not replaced as chancellor.

The allegations made against the chancellor included accounts of bribery and embezzlement. 

Kurz came under pressure in May from Austrian authorities for supposedly lying to prosecutors about his involvement in political corruption. The most recent investigation found that he used public funds to bribe pollsters and journalists for positive media coverage.

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Kurz’s office and the offices of the Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) were investigated by the Austrian Police. He stepped down as Chancellor after the ÖVP’s Green Party coalition partners called for his resignation. 

The police-led probe showed evidence indicating that Kurz’s corruption began back in 2016, when he was Austria’s foreign minister.

Evidence gathered from a 100-page search warrant suggested Kurz paid a local polling firm €140,000 under the guise of “anti-corruption studies” to manipulate polls in his favor. The data was published in the formerly pro-Kurz magazine Österreich to allegedly boost his political agenda.

“My country is more important to me than my own person,” Kurz stated. “I am resigning to prevent chaos.”

Werner Kogler, leader of the Greens and current vice chancellor, welcomed Kurz’s resignation. 

“I think this is the right step, in view of the current situation, for a future government that takes responsibility for Austria and its reputation, (trans.)” he said.

Both Kogler and Kurz have welcomed the former chancellor’s replacement.

The sudden handoff of chancellorship to Schallenberg, who has been a longtime ally of Kurz and his political agenda, stalled parliament’s vote of no confidence against Kurz. 

If the vote had gone ahead, it may have driven the ÖVP out of Austria’s majority, leaving room for the remaining parties to create a government between the Greens, the Austrian Social Democrats (SPÖ), left-leaning Neos and the Freedom Party.

Despite the resignation, Kurz remained firmly rooted in the upper ranks of the ÖVP. After resigning from chancellorship, Kurz still remains the acting head of the ÖVP, landing him a spot in parliament and parliamentary immunity. 

This and the quick handover of power that led some of Kurz’s political opponents, like SPÖ party leader Pamela Rendi-Wagner, to ascertain that Schallenberg is a “puppet ruler” with Kurz “pulling the strings.”

“Sebastian Kurz is a chancellor in the shadows,” Rendi-Wagner stated.

Despite his newly-granted immunity, the Austrian newspaper Der Standard reported that Kurz is applying to remove his parliamentary immunity, so as to prove his innocence. 

“I will, of course, use this opportunity to disprove allegations against me,” Kurz said.

Though still in parliament, Kurz would face three years in prison if found guilty by the Austrian court for his bribery indictment. This includes previous indictments from other scandals, such as when his last vice chancellor offered political influence for party donations.

With the recent departure of German chancellor Angela Merkel, Austria is now the second of two major EU countries to lose a conservative leader. 

Both Kurz’s party and some right-wing German parties, like Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, rallied behind the ex-chancellor and his self-proclaimed innocence.

Joshua Jones, a senior political science major, argued that Kurz’s resignation is a “blow” to Western European Conservatives, particularly after Merkel’s resignation.

“Whilst Kurtz’ replacement is also from his party, trends within the geopolitical landscape suggest that the region may be shifting away from Conservatism,” he said.