VIENNA (Reuters) – Austria’s coalition government is on the brink of collapse as conservative Chancellor Sebastian Kurz’s coalition partner, the Greens, are seeking to oust him after prosecutors placed him under investigation https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/prosecutors-raid-austrian-conservatives-hq-fresh-headache-kurz-2021-10-06 this week on suspicion of corruption offences.
WHERE DO THINGS STAND?
The Greens, a left-wing party that campaigned on “clean politics”, say Kurz is no longer fit https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/austrias-greens-question-coalition-ally-kurzs-ability-stay-2021-10-07 to hold office because he would be too busy fighting the allegations against him. Kurz denies wrongdoing and says he is willing to keep working with the Greens.
The Greens want Kurz’s People’s Party (OVP) to depose him and nominate a successor they can govern with. The OVP says it refuses to do that and it will stay in the coalition only if Kurz stays on.
Austria’s three opposition parties – the Social Democrats, far-right Freedom Party (FPO) and liberal Neos – plan to submit one or more no-confidence motions against Kurz at a special session of parliament on Tuesday. To succeed, a motion must be supported by the Greens, which now seems likely.
There is little appetite for a snap election since there have been two parliamentary elections in the past four years. The last snap election was in September 2019 after Kurz’s coalition with the FPO collapsed in scandal.
The Greens and opposition will try to find a solution within the existing parliament. The only way they can command a majority without the OVP is with the anti-immigration FPO, which will make for an awkward alliance since they disagree on many issues including COVID-19 measures.
WILL THE OVP TURN AGAINST KURZ?
The OVP says there is no alternative to Kurz as chancellor in this government. There is no obvious candidate to succeed him and until now he has been unchallenged as party leader. A party conference in August reappointed him with 99.4% support.
Kurz has secured unprecedented powers within the party and surrounded himself with loyalist ministers. However, the OVP is also the party of power. It has been in every government since 1987 and its influential provincial governors will be wary of ending that run, especially if parliament sacks Kurz.
WHAT ALTERNATIVE IS THERE TO KURZ?
If the OVP stands by Kurz, the only alternative is a another coalition without the OVP – either a minority government or a coalition including the far-right FPO.
If the government collapses and no replacement is found, a cabinet of civil servants could be appointed temporarily until a snap election, as happened in 2019.
WOULD A SNAP ELECTION FIX THINGS?
That is far from certain.
Kurz was sacked by parliament before, in 2019. The government then collapsed and he went on to win the snap election that followed.
If the OVP keeps him as leader, that could yet happen again, though this time he would most likely struggle to find a party willing to go into a coalition with him and give him a majority.
Opinion polls before Kurz was placed under investigation showed his OVP had around 34% support and a lead of more than 10 points over the Social Democrats.
(Reporting by Francois Murphy; Editing by Frances Kerry)