By Francois Murphy
VIENNA -Austria’s governing coalition was on the brink of collapse on Friday as its junior party said it wanted to oust Chancellor Sebastian Kurz now that he has been placed under investigation on suspicion of corruption offences.
Kurz denies wrongdoing and says he is willing to keep governing with the Greens. But the left-wing party, which campaigned on a platform of “clean politics”, has said the investigation makes Kurz unfit to serve chancellor.
The Greens began talks on Friday with Austria’s three opposition parties, which have all demanded that Kurz resign and plan to submit one or more no-confidence motions against him at a special session of parliament on Tuesday. For a motion to pass, the Greens must support it – which is increasingly likely.
“We will now sound out what the possibilities are,” Greens leader and vice chancellor Werner Kogler told reporters before meeting the leader of the Social Democrats, Pamela Rendi-Wagner.
The Greens say they want Kurz’s People’s Party (OVP) to depose Kurz and suggest a successor. But the OVP has thrown its support behind Kurz and said that if he goes, the OVP‘s participation in the government will end. Most opposition parties say they do not want a snap election.
“Such a person (Kurz) is no longer capable of performing his duties, and of course the OVP has a responsibility here to nominate someone who is beyond reproach to lead this government,” the Greens’ leader in parliament, Sigi Maurer, told reporters as she stood next to Kogler.
Since the OVP has refused to name a replacement, talks with the opposition are taking place, she added.
President Alexander Van der Bellen, who has the power to dismiss the chancellor or the entire cabinet and oversees periods of transition, also consulted party leaders. While he emphasised the importance of the presumption of innocence, he had stern words clearly aimed at Kurz.
“I have different expectations of the behaviour of those in positions of political responsibility,” Van der Bellen said in an address to the nation, referring to damning text-message exchanges mentioned in prosecutors’ investigation as well as recent public statements, but without mentioning Kurz by name.
Van der Bellen, a former leader of the Greens, has been particularly critical of repeated accusations by Kurz and the OVP that anti-corruption prosecutors are biased against them. Prosecutors’ and judges’ groups have denied that, and denounced it as an attempt to intimidate them.
Prosecutors said on Wednesday they had placed Kurz and nine others under investigation on suspicion of breach of trust, corruption and bribery with various levels of involvement.