Austria: New chancellor replaces scandal-hit Kurz

Alexander Schallenberg, 52, succeeds predecessor Sebastian Kurz but opposition warns of ‘no change to system’.

Schallenberg belongs to Kurz's conservative Austrian People’s Party, which heads Austria's coalition government [Lisi Niesner /Reuters]

Alexander Schallenberg has been sworn in as Austria’s new chancellor, replacing Sebastian Kurz, who resigned after he was implicated in a corruption scandal.

During Schallenberg’s swearing-in ceremony on Monday, Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen said the government needed to restore public trust eroded by the allegations of Kurz’s wrongdoing.

“We all expect that the government will go back to work and moves things forward together,” Van der Bellen said.

Schallenberg belongs to Kurz’s conservative Austrian People’s Party, which heads Austria’s coalition government.

The 52-year-old previously served as foreign minister. Career diplomat Michael Linhart, 63, was sworn in as his replacement during Monday’s ceremony.

‘No change to the Kurz system’

The appointments came after Kurz announced on Saturday that he would step aside in a bid to defuse a political crisis that erupted last week.

He and nine others – including senior aides – are being investigated on suspicion of breaching trust, corruption and bribery.

The Greens, the junior partner to Kurz’s conservatives, had demanded the 35-year-old’s head in response to the scandal.

Kurz, who has denied wrongdoing, proposed Schallenberg, a move that the Greens accepted.

Schallenberg has been loyal to Kurz and shares his hard line on curbing migration, but has a background in diplomacy rather than party politics.

Austria’s political opposition said the new leader will merely continue to do his predecessor’s bidding.

“All opposition parties agree there is no change to the Kurz system,” Kai Jan Krainer of the Social Democrats, who was on a parliamentary commission of inquiry that looked into possible corruption under a previous Kurz government, told ORF radio.

“He still has all the strings in his hands and designated Chancellor Schallenberg is part of this Kurz system,” Jan Krainer said.

Kurz keeps party leader role

Kurz and his close associates are accused of trying to secure his rise to the leadership of his party and the country with the help of manipulated polls and friendly media reports, financed with public money.

Kurz became the leader of his Austrian People’s Party and then chancellor in 2017.

Although he is stepping down as chancellor, he is keeping his role as party leader and becoming the head of its parliamentary group.

President Van der Bellen, who oversees periods of transition, apologised to the nation on Sunday for the impression given by text messages sent by Kurz and other conservative officials that are part of prosecutors’ investigation.

In some of the exchanges, widely reported by Austrian media, Kurz contradicts his public statements and makes apparently cynical moves behind the scenes.

He expressed regret at the wording of some texts in his resignation speech on Saturday.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies