Austria appoints new chancellor after Kurz’s surprising resignation

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Austria’s ruling party on Friday appointed Interior Minister Karl Nehammer to lead the Conservative camp and the country after the surprising resignation of former Chancellor Sebastian Kurz as party head sparked new political upheaval.

“I wanted to announce that today I was unanimously appointed by the leadership of the OeVP (Popular Party) as head of the party and at the same time as a candidate for chancellor,” Nehammer told reporters.

The meeting of the party’s top brass came a day after Kurz, implicated in a corruption scandal, said he would resign as party head.

Alexander Schallenberg, who took over as chancellor in October, said Thursday that he was willing to resign because “the posts of chancellor and party head … must be quickly taken over by the same person.”

It will now be up to the Austrian president to accept Nehammer’s nomination and swear him in, but this is mostly a formality.

Kurz’s announcement that he would be leaving politics to spend time with his family, especially his newborn son, came just two months after his resignation as national leader.

This followed his involvement in a corruption scandal, sparking a spectacular career, which made him the youngest democratically elected head of government in the world in 2017 at just 31 years old.

In addition to naming Nehammer, the Conservative party also named new faces for various other portfolios, the interior minister said.

This includes a new finance minister after Kurz’s ally Gernot Bluemel also resigned on Thursday.

Former army officer

Born in Vienna in 1972, Nehammer served in the military for several years before becoming a communications consultant.

He became a legislator in 2017 and interior minister in January 2020 and faced the first jihadist attack in Austria, which killed four people.

The Interior Ministry was heavily criticized for failing to monitor the Austrian gunman responsible for the killings, even though they had been alerted to the danger.

The scandal that led to Kurz’s downfall erupted in early October when prosecutors ordered raids on the chancellery and the finance ministry.

They are investigating allegations that Kurz’s inner circle used public money to pay for surveys designed to improve his image and ensure positive coverage in one of the largest tabloids in the country.

Kurz has denied wrongdoing and said he hopes to have his day in court to prove his innocence.

Kurz, now 35, seized control of OeVP in 2017 and his tough stance on immigration led to two electoral victories.

OeVP’s first coalition with the far right collapsed in 2019 when its junior partner was embroiled in a corruption scandal, leading to new elections.

Those who brought Kurz back as chancellor, this time heading an administration with the Greens.

(AFP)