For the second time in a little over three years, Austrian Chancellor and People’s Party (ÖVP) leader Sebastian Kurz finds himself out of the nation’s highest office, forced to step down on Oct. 9 amid allegations of corruption against his chancellorship. Here’s everything you need to know about this scandal and the events that led to Mr. Kurz’s second sudden fall.
What Brought About Mr. Kurz’s First Resignation?
Mr. Kurz’s first departure came after the so-called “Ibiza affair” in May 2019, in which his former Vice-Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache, from the far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ), was caught on film soliciting outside influence from a Russian oligarch in return for government contracts. This event led to the swift collapse of ÖVP and FPÖ’s ruling coalition, culminating with a vote of no-confidence on May 27, 2019, ousting the chancellor and his cabinet from office after Strache resigned.
How Was Kurz Able to Come Back So Quickly?
Along with the successful no-confidence vote, the Austrian parliament quickly held snap-elections in response to the FPÖ’s Ibiza controversy. On Sept. 29, 2019, Mr. Kurz’s still-popular ÖVP party was elected back into power with 37.5% of the vote, a clear plurality and an improvement of over 6% from their last election in 2017. After negotiating with other major parties, Kurz formed a ruling coalition with the center-left Green Party under Werner Kogler rather than with the controversial FPÖ. This returned Kurz to the chancellorship in January 2020, only seven months after he first resigned from office in May.
What Caused Mr. Kurz to Step Down a Second Time?
On Oct. 6, 2021, it was leaked that prosecutors had been probing Mr. Kurz’s finances for allegedly using taxpayer funds to bribe media organizations into providing positive coverage of the chancellor during his rise to power in 2017. Though Kurz denied wrongdoing and initially tried to weather this sudden storm of allegations, he announced his resignation on Oct. 9, stating he wanted to “prevent chaos and ensure stability” for his country. The outcry against these allegations was swift and unanimous amongst Mr. Kurz’s rivals in the Austrian parliament. Green Vice-Chancellor Mr. Kogler declared Kurz “unfit for office” and announced that they were beginning negotiations with liberals and the far-right to oust his party from power unless Kurz was replaced. Subsequently, the ÖVP quickly nominated and approved foreign minister (and Kurz loyalist) Alexander Schallenberg to become Austria’s next chancellor, swearing him into office on Oct. 11.
Now What for the Ex-Chancellor?
One should not expect that Mr. Kurz will quietly walk away from politics after his second sudden fall. Soon after stepping down, Kurz announced that he would become the leader of ÖVP’s parliamentary faction, giving him a permanent seat in Schallenberg’s cabinet. While it is too soon to say whether Kurz will become a “shadow chancellor” behind the new leader’s actions, his influential position provides him ample opportunity to run for office once again in 2024. However, all this depends on what prosecutors uncover about Kurz’s involvement in this most recent scandal. Whether he will regain the chancellorship more popular than ever or find himself arrested on criminal charges is something only time will tell.
Lucas Holloway is a freshman majoring in International Studies and Economics at Johns Hopkins University. He is originally from Daytona Beach, FL, and is a member of the editorial team on the Hopkins Podcast on Foreign Affairs.