VIENNA – Austria will hold legislative elections at the end of summer, much sooner than usual, following the breakup this Saturday of the coalition of conservatives and ultranationalists that took power a year and a half ago, Federal Chancellor Sebastian Kurz announced.
“I have advised the president of the republic that elections should be held as soon as possible,” Kurz told a press conference after the vice chancellor and leader of the far-right Freedom Party (FPO), Heinz-Christian Strache, resigned amid a scandal that exploded over a video that shows him engaged in acts of corruption.
Kurz, head of the Austrian People’s Party (OVP), justified his decision to form an alliance with Strach’s far-right FPO after winning the legislative elections in October 2017, because that alliance, he said, “was the only one willing” to move ahead with the changes he had promised during his electoral campaign.
The chancellor, though he thanked all the ministers including those of the FPO for the work they had done over the past year and a half, admitted that cooperation within that coalition “wasn’t always easy.”
He said that for his program to succeed, he had to “put up with a lot over the past two years, from the ‘poem of the rats’ (a scandal caused by an FPO official’s composition comparing immigrants to rats) to the close relations of the ultranationalists with far-right groups, plus a lot of individual problems, one after another.”
“Though I didn’t always say so publicly, there have been situations that were hard to take. But to keep the work going forward, I never ended the coalition,” he said.
“But after yesterday’s video I have to say enough is enough,” the 32-year-old chancellor said.
“What is said about me, the insults, accusations and calumnies, that’s all secondary. What is a serious problem are the ideas about the abuse of power, the management of public money, and of course the media’s way of reporting it all in our country,” he said.
Kurz was referring to the video shot with hidden cameras in 2017 at a farm in Ibiza, Spain, and published on German media this Friday, in which Strache can be seen and heard offering a supposed niece of a Russian oligarch contracts and favors in exchange for millions in donations for his party.
The far-right leader also tried to convince her to acquire actions of Austria’s most influential daily to force it to support the rise to power of the FPO, all evidence of his ambition to control and manipulate the press.
As Kurz said Saturday, the FPO party has damaged the work of the coalition and the image of the nation abroad.