Austria is bracing itself for fresh elections after a corruption scandal embroiling the far right brought down the coalition government. Secretly filmed footage emerged over the weekend appearing to show the now former vice-chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache offering lucrative public contracts in exchange for campaign support. The footage seems to show Strache dealing in public contracts to a woman pretending to be the niece of a Russian oligarch.
Strache has apologised and resigned but denied doing anything illegal. He blamed his actions on alcohol and acting as a youngster, saying his behaviour had been stupid and irresponsible. He also added was leaving office to avoid further damage to the government.
In response, Chancellor Sebasian Kurz called a snap election and defended his decision to enter a coalition with the far right in the first place. The chancellor also said if there was abuse of power, those responsible should be thoroughly investigated. He said: “What’s important now – and this is the highest order – is to ensure total clearing up. All suspicions that have arisen due to the video must be investigated. Those of course range from issues like the potential abuse of power, all the way to questions of possible criminal relevance.”
Austria’s President Alexander van der Bellen said on Sunday that: “All of us who serve the republic must now exclusively concentrate on rebuilding trust. This rebuilding, this new beginning should happen quickly”. He added: “everything must be done to restore trust in officeholders, in the representatives of the people”.
This is a blow for European far-right parties as they were expecting to make gains in the EU elections later this week. In Austria, politicians were quick to distance themselves from the Austrian Freedom Party and other European far-right groupings will be watching the Austrian Freedom Party’s next steps very closely.
The Freedom Party is one of Europe’s best-established populist parties and has often obtained over 20% of the share of the vote in Austria. It has taken part in coalitions to serve in office in 2002 and again in 2009.