Kurz was the first Austrian leader to be ousted via a no-confidence vote in the country’s postwar history. But the conservative’s exile from the nation’s most powerful office may be temporary; he already had announced elections slated for September, and polls show that his party holds a commanding lead.
In European Parliamentary elections Sunday, his People’s party won a resounding victory, suggesting voters don’t hold him responsible for the controversy that befell the Freedom Party.
The far right’s support shrank in the Sunday balloting, with the Freedom Party falling to a distant third place.
Kurz has led one of the European Union’s smaller members — Austria’s population is just under 9 million — but he has played an outsize role in the continent’s politics during his brief run in power since elections vaulted him to the top job in late 2017.
Derided by critics as “Trump in a slim-fit suit,” the young politician had won fans among many in the U.S. president’s orbit by reinvigorating his once-stodgy party and adopting many of the ideas, policies and slogans of the far-right.
Kurz took a hard line on immigration, advocating tougher policies aimed at stopping the flow of asylum seekers into Europe. He also aggressively fought culture wars, pushing through a ban on Islamic headscarves in primary schools.
But unlike the continent’s populist politicians, Kurz generally avoided inflammatory rhetoric and presented himself as a modern conservative who, while clearly to the right of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, is still rooted in the European mainstream.
After the 2017 election, Kurz opted for a coalition with the Freedom Party rather than another of the “grand coalitions” between centrist parties that have dominated Austria’s postwar era.
That government collapsed this month after a video emerged of Freedom Party leader Heinz-Christian Strache appearing to dangle lucrative state contracts before a mysterious Russian woman who had identified herself as an oligarch’s niece.
The scandal — known as “Ibiza-gate” for the Spanish island where the recording was filmed — highlighted the close relationship between the Freedom Party and Russia.
It also presented an unflattering portrait of Strache, who flirted with the woman and boasted of his dream to turn Austria’s news market into one akin to Hungary’s. Austria’s neighbor is dominated by pro-government outlets owned by friends and associates of the autocratic prime minister, Viktor Orban.
It is still not clear who made the video. Its existence was first reported by German outlets Der Spiegel and the Sueddeutsche Zeitung.
Strache resigned after the video emerged. Kurz then attempted to fire the interior minister, a Freedom Party member, and the other far-right ministers resigned in protest.
The Social Democrats spearheaded Monday’s no-confidence vote, arguing that Kurz should be held accountable for his poor judgment in choosing to align with the far right.
Before the vote, Kurz had accused his critics of engaging in “a game of revenge,” while noting in reference to the upcoming election that, “at the end of the day, the people will decide.”
Austria’s president must now choose an interim chancellor and administration until a new government can be formed after the September vote.