Austrian conservative Kurz bounces back after video sting scandal

Austrian conservative Sebastian Kurz ate the far right’s lunch two years ago with a hardline immigration policy, then formed a coalition with them, only to ditch them after a video sting scandal. Now he is set to lead the country again at just 33.

There is little doubt the former chancellor and his party will win the country’s parliamentary election on Sunday (September 29) but he is an increasingly polarising figure and he has already collapsed two governments, one with each of the two parties that could give him a solid majority in parliament. Can he keep going?

“There are so many faces of Kurz,” the leader of the Greens, Werner Kogler, with whom Kurz will likely try to form a three-way coalition after the Sept. 29 election, told Reuters. “I believe he is relatively free of ideology and of ideas.”

That is a view widely held inside the political bubble, and less so outside it. That is, however, part of his success.

Before the last election in 2017, in the wake of Europe’s migration crisis, he stuck relentlessly to one theme – immigration – arguing that new arrivals threatened Austria’s welfare state.

Kurz’s former Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache was caught on video offering to fix state contracts with a woman posing as a Russian oligarch’s niece. Strache quit, hoping to save the coalition, which soon collapsed.

Kurz will need to form a coalition to control parliament, and while he could easily ally with the far right again he has good reason to turn his back on it after the Ibiza video sting scandal. He has emerged largely unscathed from that, but reviving their alliance could hurt his image at home and abroad.

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