Austria‘s president on Sunday recommended a new election be held in early September, saying he wanted to restore trust in the government after a video scandal led to the resignation of the vice chancellor.
Chancellor Sebastian Kurz pulled the plug on the coalition and called for a snap election on Saturday after his deputy, Heinz-Christian Strache, the leader of the far-right Freedom Party, quit over a secretly-recorded video which showed him discussing fixing state contracts in return for favours.
It is most important that Austrians are given the chance of a new start to rebuild trust in its government, President Alexander Van der Bellen said in a statement at his Hofburg residence in Vienna.
“This new beginning should take place quickly, as quickly as the provisions of the Federal Constitution permit, so I plead for elections … in September, if possible at the beginning of September,” the president said.
Strache has described the video sting as a “targeted political assassination” and said it never led to any money changing hands. He insisted the only crime that took place was illegally videotaping a private dinner party.
Van der Bellen and Kurz said at their joint news conference that stability was a top priority for them for the coming months.
Kurz repeated that he saw the snap elections as the only way to solve the crisis. “The new elections were a necessity, not a wish,” he said.
The make-up of a caretaker government remained unclear a day after the 18-month-old coalition of conservatives and the far right collapsed.
The downfall of the Austrian coalition comes just a week before elections for the European Parliament and is a blow to one of the most successful anti-immigrant, nationalist parties that have surged across the continent in recent years.
The Freedom Party of Austria (FPO) is a major part of a new nationalist grouping that aims to score record gains in the European vote.
Strache quit as vice chancellor and party leader earlier on Saturday after the video was released by two German news organisations. He acknowledged that the video was “catastrophic” but denied breaking the law.
In the footage – aired by the German daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung and weekly Der Spiegel newspapers – Strache was seen meeting a woman posing as the niece of a Russian oligarch in 2017, shortly before the election that brought him to power.
Strache and party colleague Johann Gudenus are heard telling the unnamed woman she could expect lucrative construction work if she bought Austria’s Kronen Zeitung newspaper and supported the Freedom Party. He is also seen discussing rules on party financing and how to work around them, although he also insisted on having to act legally.
The German publications did not reveal the source of the video.