Kurz Vows to Win Back Austrian Chancellery After Losing Vote

Boris Groendahl
Kurz Vows to Win Back Austrian Chancellery After Losing Vote

(Bloomberg) -- Ousted Austrian leader Sebastian Kurz started his campaign to take back the chancellery on Monday hours after his estranged coalition partners in the nationalist Freedom Party joined the opposition in a vote to dismiss him.

The youngest Austrian head of government also became the shortest-serving and the first to be thrown out of office since the country was reconstituted after World War II. President Alexander Van der Bellen said he’ll appoint Finance Minister Hartwig Loeger acting chancellor on Tuesday. An interim administration will be named in the coming week that can govern until snap elections are held in September.

Speaking to supporters at his conservative People’s Party’s academy near Schoenbrunn Castle, the 32-year-old Kurz was defiant and confident that voters will return him to power in the election.

“Parliament decided today but at the end of the day, in September, in a democracy the people decide,” he said two hours after losing the vote in parliament. “I’m looking forward to that.”

The reversal of fortune for Kurz, seen as a fresh conservative Wunderkind among Europe’s leaders, may only be temporary. The defeat came just a day after his party surged to a decisive victory in Austria in the European parliamentary elections. It netted record support and came in first as the opposition failed to capitalize on the week-old scandal that ensnared his nationalist vice-chancellor and threw the government into disarray.

The opposition Social Democrats and the nationalists, politically far apart but both resentful of Kurz’s self-serving style of governance, ultimately couldn’t resist toppling him, even as they risk antagonizing voters who didn’t want the chancellor replaced. They’re gambling that separating Kurz from the symbolic trappings of office will even their campaigns in the weeks ahead.

“With more than three months to go, it is too early to call the outcome, but as we have learned over the years, Austrian politics never ceases to amaze,” said Inga Fechner, an economist at ING.

Van der Bellen’s options for the interim government include naming senior civil servants, retired politicians or judges that command respect across the party spectrum. Loeger’s appointment will happen Tuesday, in time for him to take part in the European Union summit in Brussels.

Since taking power in 2017, Kurz has tried to show conservatives across Europe that they can achieve goals by working with their nationalist rivals. But the collapse of his coalition has served rather to highlights the risks of getting into bed with a party that has spent much of its time on the fringes of the mainstream.

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To contact the reporter on this story: Boris Groendahl in Vienna at bgroendahl@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Chad Thomas at cthomas16@bloomberg.net, Jonathan Tirone, Zoe Schneeweiss

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