Austria’s stunned conservatives meet to pick leader for party and country


Former Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz gives a statement as he resigns from all political duties, in Vienna, Austria, December 2, 2021. REUTERS/Lisi Niesner

December 3, 2021

By Francois Murphy

VIENNA (Reuters) – Top officials of Austria’s ruling conservative party, reeling from their leader Sebastian Kurz’s surprise resignation, meet on Friday morning to pick a successor who will also lead the nation as Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg is also quitting.

Schallenberg, a career diplomat and close ally of Kurz’s, was thrust into the government’s top job less than two months ago when Kurz quit at the behest of their coalition partner, the Greens, because he has been placed under criminal investigation on suspicion of corruption offences. Kurz denies wrongdoing.

Having remained leader of his People’s Party (OVP), Kurz stunned much of the OVP on Thursday by saying he was leaving politics. That prompted Schallenberg and Kurz’s closest ally, Finance Minister Gernot Bluemel, who is under investigation in another corruption case, to say they too would step down.

Kurz and Bluemel, who also denies wrongdoing, said their newborn children had motivated their decisions.

Since Kurz was placed under investigation his party has lost what most polls showed to be a lead of at least 10 percentage points over its nearest rivals, the opposition Social Democrats. They are now neck and neck.

Kurz, who made a hard line on immigration his hallmark and first became chancellor in 2017 by going into coalition with the far-right Freedom Party, has been the dominant and most polarising figure of Austrian politics for years. He leaves a party in disarray and no obvious successor.

Several Austrian media reported Interior Minister Karl Nehammer was best-placed to secure the job.

Neither the OVP nor the Greens have an obvious interest in a snap election as polls suggest both would lose seats, but tensions between them are such that few analysts expect their government to survive until the end of this parliament in 2023.

(Reporting by Francois Murphy)

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