BERLIN (AP) — The junior partner in Austria’s governing coalition called on Chancellor Sebastian Kurz’s party Friday to replace him with an “irreproachable person” after prosecutors said Kurz is a target of a corruption investigation. The chancellor showed no sign of budging.
Prosecutors’ announcement earlier this week that Kurz and nine others are under investigation on suspicion of breach of trust and bribery has led to a crisis in the governing coalition of his conservative Austrian People’s Party and the Greens, which took office in January 2020.
Kurz and 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 reports in media, financed with public money. Kurz, who became the People’s Party leader and then chancellor in 2017, has denied wrongdoing and made clear he doesn’t plan to step down.
The Greens on Thursday said the probe created a “disastrous” impression and raised questions about his “ability to act.” In a separate case, anti-corruption authorities put Kurz under investigation in May on suspicion of making false statements to a parliamentary commission, an allegation he also rejected.
On Friday, the Greens went a step further. “It is clear that someone like this is no longer capable of office,” said the head of the party’s parliamentary group, Sigrid Maurer.
“The People’s Party has a responsibility to nominate an irreproachable person who can continue to lead this government,” she said.
Kurz, 35, dominates his party, which so far has closed ranks behind him. But “there’s a bit of time of time until Tuesday,” when opposition parties plan to bring to parliament a no-confidence motion against the chancellor, Maurer said.
Kurz showed no sign of budging in a brief appearance Friday evening, declaring that he and his party’s government ministers “are able to act and above all willing to act.” But he said he would seek talks with Vice Chancellor Werner Kogler, the Greens’ leader.
Kurz insisted that the accusations against him are “simply false,” though he said of old text messages that have surfaced in recent days that some were written “in the heat of the moment” and he wouldn’t formulate them the same way now.
Shortly afterward, Kogler — who held a round of talks with opposition parties — made clear that the Greens weren’t budging either. He repeated the demand that the People’s Party propose an “irreproachable” replacement for Kurz, “and then we can tackle the many big, important joint projects and reforms.”
Kurz’s first coalition with the far-right Freedom Party collapsed in 2019. The chancellor pulled the plug after a video surfaced showing the Freedom Party’s leader at the time, Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache, appearing to offer favors to a purported Russian investor.