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  HOME | World (Click here for more)

Austria Calls Snap Elections in Wake of Corruption Scandal

VIENNA – Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz has called a snap election after the breakup of the coalition government amid a corruption scandal.

Vice chancellor and leader of the far-right Freedom Party, Heinz-Christian Strache, resigned on Saturday after a video emerged showing him engaged in acts of corruption.

Kurz’s centre-right People’s Party has been in government with the Freedom Party since December 2017.

The country’s president Alexander Van der Bellen said on Sunday that elections should take place in September.

“Given the deadlines set by the constitution, I advocate elections in September, if possible in early September,” he said in a brief appearance before the press at the presidential headquarters.

He held an emergency meeting with Kurz to discuss the next steps to take after the crisis unfolded on Friday with the publication of the compromising video.

Van der Bellen said he will hold consultations with the leaders of the rest of the political parties in the coming days.

“I have lost confidence in part of the government,” he continued.

He added that what happened does not reflect what “Austria is” and the country does not deserve it.

Freedom Party politician Johann Gudenus, who appears in the video with Strache translating from Russian, has also resigned from all political positions.

Van der Bellen described his and Strache’s resignations as “necessary and essential.”

“Now we must do everything possible to restore confidence as quickly as the constitution allows,” he continued.

He said that Austria, like the rest of its European Union partners, is in the final stretch of campaigning for European elections, which will be held from Thursday to Sunday.

“We still have a week of election campaign to the European Parliament and then months of intense negotiations in the EU, important for the future of the Union, during which Austria must be in a position to act as a reliable partner in the EU, “he added.

Kurz said Sunday that he will still attend a summit of the European Council on May 28 in Brussels, two days after European Parliament elections.

“On Tuesday I will be in the European Council that will address the future of the European Union,” he added.

He stressed the importance of the summit because it will “lay the foundations that will decide in which direction the EU will develop and which people will assume responsibilities.”

He agreed with the president that Austria’s priority is to have “maximum stability, so we can continue with it until the next elections and also at European level.”

The footage, recorded with hidden cameras in July 2017 on a farm on the Spanish island of Ibiza, shows Strache saying that he is willing to commit acts of corruption and take steps to control the national press.

It was published on Friday by German media and sees Strache meeting with an alleged Russian investor.

He promises public contracts and to help the woman buy the Kronenzeitung, the most influential newspaper in the country, in exchange for millions of donations for his party.

A few months later, in October of the same year, his party won 26 percent of the votes in the legislative elections and in December came to power in alliance with the popular Kurz.

 

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