Sebastian Kurz vows to win back Austrian chancellery after losing vote

Ousted Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz remained defiant and was confident that voters will return him to power in snap elections held in September. PHOTO: AFP

VIENNA (BLOOMBERG) - Ousted Austrian leader Sebastian Kurz started his campaign to take back the chancellery on Monday (May 27) hours after his estranged coalition partners in the nationalist Freedom Party joined the opposition in a vote to dismiss him.

The youngest Austrian head of government also became the shortest-serving and the first to be thrown out of office since the country was reconstituted after World War II.

President Alexander Van der Bellen said he will appoint Finance Minister Hartwig Loeger acting chancellor on Tuesday (May 28). An interim administration will be named in the coming week that can govern until snap elections are held in September.

Speaking to supporters at his conservative People's Party's academy near Schoenbrunn Castle, the 32-year-old Kurz was defiant and confident that voters will return him to power in the election.

"Parliament decided today but at the end of the day, in September, in a democracy the people decide," he said two hours after losing the vote in parliament. "I'm looking forward to that."

The reversal of fortune for Mr Kurz, seen as a fresh conservative Wunderkind among Europe's leaders, may only be temporary.

The defeat came just a day after his party surged to a decisive victory in Austria in the European parliamentary elections. It netted record support and came in first as the opposition failed to capitalise on the week-old scandal that ensnared his nationalist vice-chancellor and threw the government into disarray.

The opposition Social Democrats and the nationalists, politically far apart but both resentful of Mr Kurz's self-serving style of governance, ultimately could not resist toppling him, even as they risk antagonising voters who did not want the chancellor replaced. Theyare gambling that separating Mr Kurz from the symbolic trappings of office will even their campaigns in the weeks ahead.

"With more than three months to go, it is too early to call the outcome, but as we have learned over the years, Austrian politics never ceases to amaze," said Ms Inga Fechner, an economist at ING.

Mr Van der Bellen's options for the interim government include naming senior civil servants, retired politicians or judges that command respect across the party spectrum. Mr Loeger's appointment will happen Tuesday, in time for him to take part in the European Union summit in Brussels.

Since taking power in 2017, Mr Kurz has tried to show conservatives across Europe that they can achieve goals by working with their nationalist rivals. But the collapse of his coalition has served rather to highlights the risks of getting into bed with a party that has spent much of its time on the fringes of the mainstream.

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