New Austrian leader under fire in Parliament, mocked as predecessor Kurz's puppet

VIENNA (REUTERS) – Opposition parties attacked Austria’s new Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg on Tuesday (Oct 12) over his ties to his predecessor Sebastian Kurz, who quit over corruption allegations, while activists outside Parliament mocked him as Kurz’s puppet.

Kurz, 35, quit as chancellor under pressure from his junior coalition party, the Greens, after prosecutors placed him and nine others, including close aides, under investigation on suspicion of various degrees of bribery, corruption and breach of trust. He denies any wrongdoing.

Kurz remains leader of his conservative OVP party and is now also its top lawmaker in Parliament.

Schallenberg, 52, a career diplomat and a relative newcomer to politics, has said he will work closely with his predecessor, and opposition parties say he will just carry out Kurz’s orders.

“He who follows blindly cannot lead,” the leader of the opposition Social Democrats (SPO), Pamela Rendi-Wagner, said during a special session of the Lower House of Parliament, called in response to Kurz being placed under investigation.

Outside Parliament, the Socialist Youth, which is close to the SPO, set up an installation that depicted Schallenberg as a puppet, with Kurz pulling his strings.

Opposition parties accuse Kurz of presiding over a network that flouted rules on issues ranging from party funding to appointments to state posts.

“You (Kurz) bought yourself a party and carried out a putsch within the party… All that counted was power,” the leader of the liberal Neos party, Beate Meinl-Reisinger, told Parliament.

Uncertainty

It is unclear whether the conservatives’ current coalition with the Greens can last until the next election, due in 2024, or whether the current setup, with Kurz remaining as the conservatives’ parliamentary leader, can be sustained.

The Greens, who pressured Kurz to resign on Saturday, had campaigned for greater transparency in politics. They say they hope the coalition can return to “calmer waters”.

Anti-corruption prosecutors say they suspect conservative officials then in the Finance Ministry of using state funds to pay for manipulated polling and coverage favourable to Kurz to appear in a newspaper starting in 2016, when he was seeking to become party leader. He succeeded and won an election in 2017 with pledges to take a hard line on immigration.

Kurz, who is also under investigation separately for perjury, says all the allegations against him are false. He did not attend Tuesday’s debate.

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