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Ibiza-gate: The story behind Austria's political hurricane

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By Stefan Grobe
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Former Austrian Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache arrives for a news conference in Vienna in October 2019.
Former Austrian Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache arrives for a news conference in Vienna in October 2019.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Ronald Zak

Ibiza - a place where sunny dreams thrive - and political ambitions are shattered. At least for former Austrian vice-chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache.

The then-opposition leader of the right-wing Freedom Party (FPÖ) was caught on video, filmed in July 2017, discussing dirty tricks to win the upcoming election - and to solidify his power with the help of what he perceived were big-money Russian facilitators.

But Strache was set up. On May 17, 2019, the six-hour video was released to the media.

"Ibiza-gate" was about to shake the foundations of the country's political life.

Chancellor Sebastian Kurz immediately distanced himself from his coalition partner. Strache felt cornered.

"Yes, I was drunk and I used this intimate setting to pontificate about everything, but I lost control."

Then a bombshell.

"I just had a meeting with Chancellor Sebastian Kurz ... in which ... I offered my resignation from the position of vice-chancellor of the Republic of Austria and he accepted," he announced.

Effectively ending the coalition, Chancellor Kurz asked Austria's President Alexander van der Bellen to initiate early elections, just hours after Strache's press conference. Both agreed that this was the only way out.

"There needs to be a swift renewal, as swift as the Constitution allows it," said Van der Bellen.

But Kurz's days as chancellor were now numbered.

He had asked van der Bellen to dismiss the controversial Freedom Party interior minister, prompting the resignation of all of the party's cabinet members.

There was now open warfare between Kurz and the FPÖ.

Feeling emboldened, the opposition Social Democrats filed a motion of no-confidence against the minority chancellor - and received support from the Freedom Party.

With these forces lined up against him, Kurz did not stand a chance.

After only a year and a half in office, Kurz was the first Austrian chancellor to be ousted that way in the history of the republic.

A week later, van der Bellen appointed the president of Austria's Constitutional Court, Brigitte Bierlein, as interim chancellor. She is the first woman ever to serve in that position.

Her term is expected to end following the new elections on September 29.