Austria Picks Leader Who Will Rule Under Predecessor Kurz’s Gaze

Austria’s new Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg vowed to work closely with his predecessor and future party whip, Sebastian Kurz, who was reduced to a parliamentary role by a corruption scandal.

The new premier, almost two decades older than Kurz, said he’ll continue to work along the lines of a coalition program signed with the Green Party in 2020. That includes a wide-ranging tax overhaul that puts a price on carbon-dioxide pollution, he said after his inauguration on Monday.

Schallenberg, who has been serving as foreign minister, will need to pick up the pieces from the Kurz era and answer questions over whether it is really over. In his first comments after his appointment, the chancellor didn’t totally dispel the notion that the wily 35-year-old political survivor will be allowed to keep pulling the strings from the sidelines.
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“I will of course work work very closely with Sebastian Kurz” as head of the People’s Party parliamentary group, Schallenberg said after his appointment. “Anything else in a democracy would be absurd.”

Kurz pledged an orderly handover of power before his swearing in as lawmaker, scheduled for Thursday.

“One thing is clear: I am not a shadow chancellor,” Kurz said in a statement Monday.

Events had caught up with Kurz by the weekend. On Friday he was resisting pressure from his junior partner, the Greens, to quit after prosecutors raided offices in the Chancellery as part of a bribery investigation. But the chorus of critics kept growing, and he was facing a vote of non-confidence Tuesday.

By Saturday evening, Kurz hastily summoned the media to announce he would step aside in favor of the man he hand-picked to represent Austria’s foreign policy in his second government.

By departing largely on his own terms, Kurz is trying to stay a step ahead. Most of the key allies who helped his rise to the top will remain in government as he tries to clear himself of potential criminal charges in at least two separate investigations.

“On the surface, this is one step back,” said Thomas Hofer, a political analyst and consultant in Vienna. “But Schallenberg is a very close ally and would step down the very minute Kurz tells him.”

It was 48 hours of political turmoil in central Europe, often caught in the middle of geopolitical tensions between east and west, and complicated ties to Russia and China. In the neighboring Czech Republic, scandal-ridden Prime Minister Andrej Babis unexpectedly lost by a razor-thin margin and his protector, the president, was rushed to hospital.

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Kurz has shown resilience, and a deft touch, when faced with previous corruption allegations. In 2019, two years into his first government, he called snap elections after the leader of his far-right coalition partner, the Freedom Party, was caught on a leaked video tape offering favors to a woman posing as a Russian oligarch’s niece.

Kurz bounced back stronger than before with a carefully-choreographed campaign, and swam the ideological divide to form a …read more

Source:: Time – World

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