Austria’s Greens, the junior party in the coalition government, questioned Chancellor Sebastian Kurz’s ability to stay in office on Thursday after he was placed under investigation on suspicion of bribery, and said they will consult with other parties. The Greens, a left-wing party that campaigned on “clean politics”, said they had invited other parties in parliament to discuss next steps.
All three main opposition parties have called on Kurz to step down in light of anti-corruption prosecutors’ investigation, though not all want a snap election.
“We have thus reached a new level. The impression this gives is devastating. The facts must be fully established. That is what the people in Austria expect,” Greens leader and Vice Chancellor Werner Kogler said in a statement.
Prosecutors said on Wednesday they had placed Kurz and nine others under investigation on suspicion of breach of trust, corruption and bribery with various levels of involvement. Kurz denied the allegations.
The suspicion is that, starting in 2016 when Kurz was seeking to take over as party leader, the conservative-led Finance Ministry paid for advertisements in a newspaper in exchange for polling and coverage favourable to Kurz.
Kurz is under investigation on suspicion of perjury in a separate case, where he also denies wrongdoing. He says he will not step down, but the cases pose a major political challenge to him after he emerged relatively unscathed from a video sting scandal in 2019 that ended his coalition with the far right.
“We cannot go back to business as usual. The chancellor’s ability to act is called into question in this context,” Kogler said, adding that a meeting with Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen was also planned.
Photo – Austria’s Chancellor Sebastian Kurz. EPA-EFE/CHRISTIAN BRUNA