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Austrian Chancellor loses no-confidence votes

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Austria’s Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and his government have lost no-confidence votes in a special parliamentary session. His previous coalition ally, the far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ), backed the motions brought by the opposition Social Democrats (SPÖ). The FPÖ had become embroiled in a political scandal caused by a secret video, which ended the coalition. Austria’s president must now decide who will be chancellor. This leader will head a caretaker government ahead of elections expected in September. Mr Kurz, head of the conservative Austrian People’s Party, is the first chancellor in post-war Austrian history to lose a confidence vote. At 32, he is the world’s youngest state leader.The SPÖ brought forward the two no-confidence votes one against Mr Kurz and the other against the government. While they control only 52 of the 183-seat lower house, the FPÖ who hold 51 seats agreed to back the motions, which needed only a simple majority to pass. Mr Kurz’s surprise strong showing in Sunday’s European Union elections with a projected 35% of the vote were not enough to save him. On Facebook he accused the parties of a “game of revenge” adding: “But at the end of the day the people will decide, namely in September.” The parties ranged against Mr Kurz appeared to believe he should shoulder some of the blame for the fall of the coalition. The Social Democrats say he should never have allied himself with the FPÖ in the first place.

The FPÖ is still smarting from having had Mr Kurz replace all of its ministers with technocrats.Mr Kurz meanwhile has promoted himself as a bastion of stability amid the turmoil.It has widely been labelled “Ibiza-gate”, after the Spanish island where the video was recorded. It was secretly filmed in 2017 just weeks before the election which saw both the FPÖ and Chancellor Kurz’s party perform well. In the footage, released by German media, Freedom Party leader and vice-chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache can be seen relaxing and drinking for hours at a villa with FPÖ parliament group leader Johann Gudenus, while they meet a woman, purported to be the niece of a Russian oligarch. Mr Strache appears to propose offering her public contracts if she buys a large stake in the Austrian newspaper Kronen Zeitung and makes it support the Freedom Party. He is heard suggesting that a number of journalists would have to be “pushed” from the newspaper, and that he wants to “build a media landscape like [Viktor] Orban” referring to Hungary’s nationalist leader. Mr Strache stood down hours after the video emerged. President Alexander Van der Bellen then fired FPÖ Interior Minister Herbert Kickl at the request of Mr Kurz. The move prompted the FPÖ’s other ministers to resign in solidarity.

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