A snap election in Austria is a "necessity," Austria's Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said Sunday, following an announcement by President Alexander Van der Bellen that early elections would be held in September.
“We are of the same opinion, that after these events it is not possible to go back to business as usual. The new election is not a wish, it is a necessity,” Chancellor Kurz said.
The snap election decision was sparked by the resignation of Vice-Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache on Saturday, after a video surfaced showing him appearing to offer government contracts to a woman who claimed to be a Russian investor and niece of an oligarch.
“What is important now, and that is the uppermost requirement, is to ascertain a full explanation of what happened. We need all the suspicious facts which have arisen as a result of the video to be verified; that naturally concerns themes of potential abuse of power, to questions of potential criminal concern,” Kurz added.
Strache also resigned as head of the Freedom Party on Saturday. He denied doing “anything against the law,” calling the allegations against him a “targeted political attack.”
Speaking alongside the Chancellor on Sunday, President der Bellen said the government’s main task now is to “rebuild the trust” in Austria’s institutions, adding that this can “only be done through new elections,” which are to be held in September.
Transport Minister Norbert Hofer, who ran for president in 2016, is expected to take over as head of the Freedom Party.
The scandal is a blow to the Freedom Party, one of Europe’s most successful nationalist groups, ahead of the European parliament elections — which far-right parties across the Continent have set their sights on.
It is not known who recorded the video or set up the meeting, which allegedly took place July 24, 2017, on the Spanish island of Ibiza, three months before the Austrian elections.
Der Spiegel and Süddeutsche Zeitung reported that the woman offered to buy a 50% stake in Austria’s Kronen Zeitung newspaper and ensure it supported the Freedom Party.
Strache admitted to meeting the woman and described it as a “private conversation” in Ibiza. He said he was “drunk” but “no donations have been made to the party” as a result of the meeting.
“It was a typical alcohol-infused macho behavior. … With this I have hurt the most important person in my life, which is my wife,” Strache said.
Kurz — who swept to power in 2017 after taking a tough, anti-immigration stance — said on Saturday that Strache’s tactics exposed in the “despicable” video “damages the reputation of our country.”
He added that it was the last straw in a number of smaller scandals, Reuters reported.
The Freedom Party, founded by former Nazi officers in the 1950s, has long been part of Austria’s political landscape. It first entered government 17 years ago, the first far-right party to do so in postwar Europe.
Strache had sought to modernize the party, but accusations of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia continue to linger.
In April, a Freedom Party member and deputy mayor of Hitler’s birthplace resigned after writing a “deeply racist” poem comparing migrants to rats.