Far-right party scandal rattles Austrian politics

Austrian Chancellor dissolved his coalition with the Freedom Party after the release of a video in which FP leader discussed state contracts in return for favors with a fake Russian oligarch's niece.

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May 19, 2019 22:34
2 minute read.
Far-right party scandal rattles Austrian politics

Head of the Freedom Party (FPOe) Heinz-Christian Strache (L) and head of the People's Party (OeVP) Sebastian Kurz shake hands at the end of a news conference in Vienna, Austria, December 15, 2017.. (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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A scandal involving a far-right nationalist party, a controversial politician, a fake Russian oligarch's niece and the reek of bribery has rattled Austrian politics just a week before European Union elections, which will take place on May 26, 2019.

As reported by Reuters on Saturday, conservative Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz dissolved his coalition with the Freedom Party (FP) after the release of a video in which Vice Chancellor and FP leader Heinz-Christian Strache discussed state contracts in return for financial or political favors with a purported Russian woman, whose identity turned out to be false.

The videos were released by German publications Der Spiegel and Süddeutsche Zeitung. They reported that the source of the videos, recorded in a villa in Ibiza in July 2017, was known to editors at both media outlets, but insisted on remaining anonymous. They added that the motivations of the source were not cleared. 

"After yesterday's video, I honestly have to say – enough is enough," Kurz said in a statement to the media, as reported by Reuters.

He then continued by mentioning a series of previous blows to the relations between the two parties, mostly episodes that have seen leaders of the Freedom Party making antisemitic or racist statements. In one case, for instance, the deputy mayor of Hitler's hometown wrote a poem likening immigrants to rats.

In the latest Austrian national elections held in October 2017, Kurz's center-right People's Party won 31% of the vote, while the Freedom Party obtained 26%, making it one of the most successful far-right parties in the European landscape. Kurz's decision to form a coalition with the far Right was considered by many to be controversial.


According to a poll by Politico, currently the People's Party would secure 33% to 34% of the support, with the Freedom Party winning around 22% and the Social Democratic Party stable at the same 26% they achieved in the elections 17 months ago. The poll was conducted before the latest scandal broke.

Kurz said he was proposing to Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen that a snap election would take place as soon as possible. Van der Bellen said on Sunday that he recommends new parliamentary elections to be held early September, Reuters reported.

Strache resigned as vice chancellor and Freedom Party leader.

In a news conference, he said that "in the cold light of day, my remarks were catastrophic and exceedingly embarrassing," adding that "it was typical alcohol-fueled macho behavior in which, yes, I also wanted to impress the attractive female host and I behaved like a bragging teenager." However, he denied committing any crime.

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