Austrian lawmakers sack Kurz as video sting fallout spreads

Austrian lawmakers sack Kurz as video sting fallout spreads
Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz attends a session of the Parliament in Vienna, Austria May 27, 2019. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger Copyright LEONHARD FOEGER(Reuters)
Copyright LEONHARD FOEGER(Reuters)
By Reuters
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By Francois Murphy and Kirsti Knolle

VIENNA (Reuters) - Austrian lawmakers voted conservative Chancellor Sebastian Kurz's government out of office on Monday, passing a motion of no confidence days after it became a caretaker administration in the aftermath of a video sting scandal.

Kurz's People's Party came out on top in Sunday's European Parliament election, only a week after the sting prompted Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache of the far-right Freedom Party (FPO) to step down and Kurz to scrap the coalition between their parties.

Kurz hoped to use his position as chancellor during the transition as a springboard for re-election, presenting himself as more of a victim of the political crisis set off by the video than an enabler of it who brought the far right to power.

But with the next parliamentary election expected in September, opposition parties said Kurz must share the blame and voted his minority government - in which FPO ministers had been replaced by civil servants - down.

"Kurz gambled away his chances and, Mr Chancellor, you bear full responsibility," the Social Democrats' (SPO) deputy parliamentary faction head Joerg Leichtfried said in a speech, minutes before his party submitted the motion.

FPO lawmakers earlier unanimously agreed to support the SPO motion. Combined, the two parties have a majority of 103 seats in the 183-seat lower house.

Austria's president must now nominate a new chancellor to put together a caretaker government able to last until the election. While he could in principle choose Kurz again, that is highly unlikely.

"To topple the government a few months before an election is something few people in this country can understand," Kurz told lawmakers before the vote, presenting himself as a force for stability after the scandal that felled his coalition partner.

Despite the scandal, Kurz's People's Party (OVP) won a larger share of the vote in the European ballot than in the parliamentary election of 2017, while the SPO's share shrank.

FPO leader Strache resigned from all his political posts after the video footage, which appeared to show him discussing fixing government contracts, was published by two German media outlets.

Vienna prosecutors said they were investigating the sting video "in multiple directions", but declined to provide further details. Strache denies doing anything illegal.

"Parliament will have its say on Monday," Kurz said on Facebook prior to the no-confidence votes. "But at the end of the day the people will decide, namely in September."

The FPO's Herbert Kickl, whom Kurz forced out of his post as interior minister, forecast a different outcome. "This power grab is disgusting... And voters will decide about that, too, in September," he told lawmakers.

(Additional reporting by Michael Shields in Zurich; Editing by Madeline Chambers and John Stonestreet)

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