Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz Resigns


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BERLIN — Chancellor Sebastian Kurz of Austria announced on Saturday that he would resign, days after prosecutors launched a criminal investigation into allegations he used federal money to pay off pollsters and journalists for favorable coverage.

The move came amid intense pressure from all sides, with Mr. Kurz’s partners in the government, the Greens, threatening to quit the coalition unless his conservative People’s Party replaced him as chancellor. The country’s president issued a stern statement urging all players to put party politics aside in the interest of stability.

“I admit that it is not an easy step for me,” Mr. Kurz told reporters at a news conference in Vienna on Saturday evening. “My country is more important than my person. What it needs is stability.”

Mr. Kurz, 35, said that he would suggest Alexander Schallenberg, 52, the country’s foreign minister, as his replacement in the chancellery. He said he would stay on as the leader of his party and the head of the conservative caucus in Parliament — positions that would keep him close to the new chancellor.

Saturday’s resignation was the second time Mr. Kurz was forced to give up the chancellorship without serving out a full term. It was also the second time that his exit was linked to allegations of corruption. But observers noted that despite surrendering his title, he remained in proximity to the levers of power.

“A real loss of power looks a rather different,” Peter Filzmaier, a political scientist told Austria’s public broadcaster ORF, pointing out that Mr. Schallenberg is a confidant of Mr. Kurz.

Werner Kogler, Austria’s vice chancellor and leader of the Greens, who had questioned Mr. Kurz’s ability to remain as chancellor while under criminal investigation, welcomed the resignation.

“Given the current situation, I believe this is the right step for our work in the government to continue, and for Austria’s image abroad,” he said, indicating that his party would remain in the coalition.

The first government that Mr. Kurz had forged, with the far-right Freedom Party, collapsed in 2019 over a compromising video that showed the Freedom Party leader promising government contracts in exchange for financial support from a woman claiming to be a wealthy Russian. That partnership lasted only 526 days.

After a snap election in 2019, Mr. Kurz won a decisive victory for his party, but this time he pivoted to the left, forming a government with the Greens.

When federal prosecutors announced on Wednesday that they had opened a criminal investigation against Mr. Kurz and nine others, including his close advisers and members of his party, the Greens began questioning whether he was fit to remain in office.

In his statement on Saturday, Mr. Kurz insisted the allegations against him were untrue and said that he would prove his innocence.

“These accusations date back to 2016. They are false, and I will be able to clear this up,” he said. “I’m deeply convinced of that.”

Between 2016 and 2018, prosecutors claimed in their statement Wednesday, Mr. Kurz was involved in using taxpayer money from the country’s finance ministry to pay a polling company to conduct, and in some cases manipulate, surveys favorable to him and his party.

The results of the surveys were then published in newspapers owned by a media conglomerate that accepted payments in exchange for the positive coverage, prosecutors said in their statement. The suspicions are based partially on lengthy text message conversations between Mr. Kurz and some of his advisers.

After an intense, social media-savvy campaign focused largely on patriotic themes and taking a hard line against migration, Mr. Kurz led his party to victory in 2019 — increasing its support by 6 percentage points.

The New York Times


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