Austria’s new chancellor, Alexander Schallenberg, on Monday pledged to work closely with his predecessor Sebastian Kurz, who stepped down on corruption allegations, prompting opposition claims that the new leader would simply follow his orders.
The Greens, a junior partner of Kurtz’s Conservatives, demanded Kurz’s head after he and nine others, including senior aides, were prosecuted last week on suspicion of varying degrees of abuse of trust, corruption and bribery.
Kurz, who denies wrongdoing, has so far been the undisputed leader of his party and is taking on an additional role as his party’s top MP in parliament. His opponents say that he will continue to control politics from these positions and will act as a “chancellor in the shadows.”
“I believe that the accusations that have been made (against Kurz) are false, and I am convinced that in the end it will turn out that there was nothing in them,” – Schallenberg, a professional diplomat who became a close ally of Kurz. This is stated in a message to the media.
“I will, of course, work very closely … with Sebastian Kurz,” he said in his first public statement since stepping down as foreign minister.
Schallenberg said he wanted to ensure “accountability and stability,” but his remarks did little to appease the opposition.
“I got the impression that he intends to do just that: go back to business as usual and act as if nothing had happened,” Schallenberg urges to actively fight corruption, leader of the liberal party Neos, Beata Meinl-Reisinger.
Pulling the strings
Kurz also spoke out against criticism of the opposition.
“I am not a shadow chancellor,” he said on Twitter, promising to support the government in his work.
The Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office says they suspect conservative officials at the Treasury Department have used public funds to pay for poll manipulation and Kurz-friendly newspaper coverage since 2016, when Kurz aspired to become the party leader. He succeeded and won parliamentary elections the following year, promising to take a tough stance on immigration.
Critics have accused Kurz of overseeing a system or network that violated the rules on issues such as party funding and government appointments in pursuit of power for him and his allies. Kurz, who is under separate investigation into perjury, says all of the charges are false.
“All opposition parties agree that there are no changes in Kurz’s system. He still has all the strings in his hands, and Chancellor-Appointed Schallenberg is part of this Kurz system, ”said Kai Jan Krainer, a Social Democratic parliamentary commissioner Radio ORF reported an investigation that examined possible corruption under Kurz’s previous government …
During Schallenberg’s swearing-in, President Alexander Van der Bellen said that public confidence in political institutions had been severely undermined by the investigation and uncovered text messages that appear to indicate that Kurz and his allies are acting cynically behind the scenes.
“The reorganized government now has a great responsibility not only for the successful continuation of this government’s projects, but also for restoring public confidence in politics,” said Van der Bellen in his speech.
In some text messaging exchanges widely reported by the Austrian media, Kurz refers to his rival as a “donkey” and appears to be creating a deadlock for the coalition that he says he wanted to prevent. He regretted the wording of some of the texts in his resignation letter on Saturday.