The Austrian chancellor, Sebastian Kurz, said on Saturday that he plans to step down in an effort to defuse a government crisis triggered by prosecutors’ announcement that he is a target of a corruption investigation.
Kurz, 35, said he has proposed that the foreign minister, Alexander Schallenberg, be his replacement. Kurz himself plans to become the head of his Austrian People’s party’s parliamentary group.
His party had closed ranks behind him after the prosecutors’ announcement on Wednesday. But its junior coalition partner, the Greens, said on Friday that Kurz couldn’t remain as chancellor and demanded that his party nominate an “irreproachable person” to replace him. The coalition government took office in January 2020.
The Greens’ leader, vice-chancellor Werner Kogler, welcomed Kurz’s decision as “a right and important step.”“This means that we can continue our work in government,” he said.
“What we need now are stable conditions,” Kurz told reporters in Vienna. “So, in order to resolve the stalemate, I want to make way to prevent chaos and ensure stability.”
Kurz and his close associates are accused of trying to secure his rise to the leadership of his party and the country with the help of manipulated polls and friendly reports in the media, financed with public money. Kurz, who became the People’s party leader and then chancellor in 2017, has denied wrongdoing and until Saturday made clear he planned to stay on.
The Greens said the probe created a “disastrous” impression. In a separate case, anti-corruption authorities put Kurz under investigation in May on suspicion of making false statements to a parliamentary commission, an allegation he also rejected.
Opposition leaders had called for Kurz to go and planned to bring a no-confidence motion against him Tuesday in parliament.
In Saturday’s statement, Kurz insisted again that the accusations against him “are false and I will be able to clear this up – I am deeply convinced of that”.
He said he will keep his party’s leadership as well as becoming its parliamentary group leader.
Kurz’s first coalition with the far-right Freedom party collapsed in 2019. The chancellor pulled the plug after a video surfaced showing the Freedom party’s leader at the time, Heinz-Christian Strache, appearing to offer favours to a purported Russian investor.
Austria’s next regular parliamentary election is due in 2024.
Austrian authorities raided Kurz’s offices and party headquarters in Vienna on Wednesday amid suspicion that he and his inner circle conspired to embezzle public funds to bribe pollsters and prominent media figures in return for favorable coverage.