Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz has asked for a snap election after his Vice-Chancellor resigned over a corruption scandal.
Mr Kurz’s centre-right People’s Party is in government with Heinz-Christian Strache’s far-right Freedom Party, but Mr Strache stepped down after secret video ootage emerged.
The secretly-filmed video shows Mr Strache and Johann Gudenus – also a Freedom Party politician – talking to a woman who claims to be a wealthy Russian citizen looking to invest in Austria.
The meeting reportedly took place at a villa on the Spanish island of Ibiza, in a private room with both politicians relaxing on sofas, smoking and drinking.
In the footage, the woman says she is the niece of a powerful Russian oligarch. She offers to buy a 50 percent stake in Austria’s Kronen-Zeitung newspaper and switch its editorial position to support the Freedom Party.
In exchange, Mr Strache said he could award her public contracts, explaining that he wanted to “build a media landscape like [Victor] Orban”, a reference to Hungary’s authoritarian prime minister.
Austrian Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache of the far-right Austrian Freedom Party resigns after two German newspapers published footage of him apparently offering lucrative government contracts to a potential Russian benefactor. Photo: Copyright 2019 The Associated Press / Michael Gruber / All rights reserved
The vice-chancellor also speculates that the Russian’s takeover of Kronen-Zeitung could boost support for the party to as much as 34 percent.
“If you take over the Kronen Zeitung three weeks before the election and get us into first place, then we can talk about everything,” Mr Strache said.
As part of the deal, he suggests the Russian woman “set up a company like Strabag”, the Austrian construction firm.
“All the government orders that Strabag gets now, [you] would get,” he continues.
Mr Strache also names several journalists who would have to be “pushed” from the newspaper, and five other “new people whom we will build up”.
Mr Strache blamed his actions on alcohol and acting like a “teenager”, saying his behaviour had been “stupid” and “irresponsible”, and that he was leaving to avoid further damage to the government.
Mr Kurz has attempted to distance himself from past scandals surrounding the Freedom Party, mostly involving party officials and anti-Semitism or racism, but political opponents called for him to respond to the latest revelations.
A crowd of thousands with placards and banners have been rallying on the square outside Mr Kurz’s office, chanting “snap elections now”.
Demonstrators gather in front of the Austrian Chancellors Office in Vienna. Slogan reads: ‘This Government Is Corrupt’. Photo: Copyright 2019 The Associated Press / Michael Gruber / All rights reserved
“I have suggested to the president of the republic that new elections be carried out, at the earliest possible date,” Mr Kurz said.
“After yesterday’s video, I must say quite honestly: enough is enough,” he said.
Thomas Drozda, from the opposition Social Democrats, told national broadcaster ORF, said it was “the tip of the iceberg”.
“I expect the chancellor, who evidently has known about this video for 48 hours, and that his coalition partner is drowning in a swamp of corruption, to speak and explain his position.”
Mr Kurz said that this was not the first time he had had difficulties with the party.
“Even if I didn’t express myself publicly at the time, there were many situations that I found difficult to swallow,” he said.
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