UPDATED- Nehammer is sworn in as Austria’s third chancellor in two months

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VIENNA, Dec 6 (Reuters) – Austrian conservative Karl Nehammer was sworn in on Monday as Austria’s third chancellor in two months, succeeding career diplomat Alexander Schallenberg, who took office on Oct. 11.

Nehammer, previously interior minister, takes over as head of the government days after senior members of his conservative People’s Party (OVP) picked him to succeed Sebastian Kurz as OVP leader.

Kurz announced last week that he was leaving politics, prompting his close ally Schallenberg to say he too would quit. 

Conservative star Kurz, 35, stunned much of the country by announcing on Thursday that he was quitting as leader of the People’s Party (OVP) and leaving politics, saying he had lost interest since the birth of his son last month. The party picked Nehammer to succeed him as its leader on Friday.

Kurz quit as chancellor in October at the behest of his coalition partner, the left-wing Greens, because he has been placed under criminal investigation on suspicion of corruption offences. Kurz’s supporters had hoped he would quickly clear his name and return as chancellor. He denies all wrongdoing.

Prosecutors suspect allies of Kurz’s used public funds to secretly commission manipulated polling that was published in a newspaper with a view to helping him gain power in 2017, the year in which he became OVP leader and then chancellor, forming a coalition with the far-right Freedom Party.

Nehammer takes over a party in turmoil that since 2017 has been largely built around Kurz.

Nehammer indicated on Friday that he plans to keep the law-and-order agenda that was central to Kurz’s appeal but also a point of friction with the Greens. His top priority will be the coronavirus pandemic, he said, as Austria tries to keep infections falling while coming out of lockdown next week.

He must also repair the OVP’s damaged image as it has lost what most polls showed to be a lead of at least 10 percentage points over its nearest rival, the Social Democrats, since Kurz was placed under investigation. Neither the OVP nor the Greens say they want a snap election for now but most analysts expect the coalition will not last until the end of this parliament in 2023. In newspaper interviews at the weekend, Greens leader Werner Kogler did not rule out a snap election next year.

Photo – Karl Nehammer will be sworn in as Austrian chancellor on Monday. EPA-EFE/CHRISTIAN BRUNA

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