Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, once hailed for making populism mainstream, has vowed to return to power in an even stronger position after been ousted by parliament in a no-confidence vote Monday, triggering new elections in September.
Kurz, 32, the youngest leader in Europe, abruptly lost power after he ended the coalition government with the far-right Freedom Party in the midst of a video showing that the party’s leader appearing to be offering lucrative government contracts to a supposed Russian investor.
But despite the ouster and new election, Kurz remains defiant and told his supporters that he will be back in charge, this time with increased strength.
“The changes that we began two years ago will not end today,” he said. “In the end, the people will decide in September, and I’m happy about that,” he added, prompting chants from the crowd of “Chancellor Kurz!”
Kurz slammed the far-right party he went into coalition with and the opposition Social Democrats, saying “we have only heard one thing, that Kurz must go. That’s the only platform of those two parties and I’m afraid to say I must disappoint them both: I’m still here.”
The chancellor was often derided by critics as “Trump in a slim-fit suit,” but since gaining power in late 2017, he sparked a brand of right-wing populism that is increasingly embraced across Europe.
Without making provocative statements, he took a tough stance on immigration, tried to limit asylum seekers entering the continent and banned Islamic burkas in public spaces and headscarves in primary schools.
He formed a right-wing coalition government between his traditional center-right Austrian People’s Party (OVP) and the Freedom Party, which was founded after World War II by Neo-Nazis. The move that shocked many within the European establishment.
But the government came crashing down after Austrian Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache resigned earlier this month after being caught in secret video footage offering government contracts to a potential Russian benefactor.
The daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung and the weekly Spiegel published excerpts earlier this month of a secret video that showed Strache offering government contracts to a Russian woman, who claimed to be the niece of a prominent Russian businessman supposedly interested in investing in Austria.
Strache and party colleague Johann Gudenus are heard saying to the woman that she could get lucrative construction contracts if she buys an Austrian newspaper and supports their party.
“We have only heard one thing, that Kurz must go. That’s the only platform of those two parties and I’m afraid to say I must disappoint them both: I’m still here.”
His ouster marks the first time in Austria’s modern history that a no-confidence vote in the parliament succeeded, making Kurz the shortest-serving chancellor since 1945 with 525 days in office.
Kurz remains popular and his party finished first Sunday in Austria in the European Parliament election with 34.9 percent support, a gain of almost 8 percentage points over 2014.
The Social Democrats, meanwhile, won 23.6 percent and the Freedom Party took 17.2 percent of the vote, a significant drop from the party’s previous results in Austria’s 2017 national election.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.