Far-right Party Quits Austria’s Cabinet over Russian Ties Leak Scandal

Far-right Party Quits Austria’s Cabinet over Russian Ties Leak Scandal

Austria will likely hold early elections in September as Chancellor Kurz broke up the ruling colaition with the far-right in the wake of the Strache scandal.

All ministers from the far-right Austrian Freedom Party (FPOe) have resigned from Austria’s Cabinet over the scandal erupting after the leak of a video exposing the party’s exchange with a Russian oligarch.

The resignations come after Austria’s Chancellor Sebastian Kurz of the right-wing Austrian People’s Party (OeVP) broke his governing coalition with the FPOe and called snap elections.

The scandal broke out over the weekend as a video leaked by German media showed FPOe leader and Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache offer lucrative business deals to a woman posing as the niece of a Russian oligarch during a meeting in the Spanish resort of Ibiza in 2017.

Russian media have interpreted the Strache Scandal as a secret service operation designed to sour relations with Moscow.

The leak led Strache to resign on Saturday as both Vice Chancellor and party chief but his resignation was not sufficient for Austrian Chancellor Kurz.

The ministers from Austria’s far-right Freedom Party announced on Monday their resignations from Kurz’s Cabinet in solidarity with Interior Minister Herbert Kickl – after Kurz asked for Kickl’s sacking.

Herbert Kickl was chairman of the FPOe in 2017 when the footage was recorded. As FPÖ secretary general, he would likely have been aware of any illegal donations, DW reports.

Under the Austrian system, the Chancellor is obliged the President to approve the sacking of a Cabinet member.

The FPOe reacted in protest to Kurz’s asking President Alexander Van der Bellen to okay the removal of Interior Minister Kickl.

“Complete transparency” and “total clarification” were necessary after the scandal, Kurz said, adding that Kickl’s response to the scandal had not displayed the “necessary sensitivity.”

The quitting of the far-right ministers in the Austrian government will leave it in a hard spot as the vacant portfolios will also be defense, labor, foreign policy, and transport.

Kurz made it clear at a news conference with Vienna that he had discussed with President Alexander Van der Bellen the option of filling the positions with civil servants and technocrats. Kurz’s Cabinet will likely face a no-confidence vote by opposition MPs next week.

“[The leaked video scandal] has damaged the image of our country around the world,” Kurz declared earlier.

On Sunday, Austria’s President Van der Bellen suggested that early elections be held at the beginning of September.

Kurz’s center-right People’s Party has been ruling in coalition with the far-right Freedom Party since 2017. The Austrian Chancellor has been criticized for the alliance, which has itself grown uneasy over time.

(Banner image: Sebastian Kurz on Twitter)

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