Austrian conservatives’ silent war after Kurz

Kurz tried to refute the notion that he would act as a shadow chancellor and said he would support the government as party leader. [EPA-EFE/CHRISTIAN BRUNA]

Ever since the resignation of Sebastian Kurz as Chancellor of Austria, and his replacement with Alexander Schallenberg, the opposition has claimed that Kurz will continue to act as a ‘shadow chancellor’ and will pull the strings behind the scenes.

However, things are not clear cut, as the resignation of Kurz also revealed a power struggle within the Austrian People’s Party itself.

“There is a shadow chancellor who continues to pull the strings,” the leader of the Social Democrats said in a statement, adding that “the system of Kurz will continue to reign.”

Kurz tried to refute the notion that he would act as a shadow chancellor and said he would support the government as party leader.

However, analysts have said that Kurz will continue to shape Austrian politics and intervene in government affairs from his position as party leader and ÖVP faction leader in the parliament.

Schallenberg himself has said on multiple occasions that he would work closely with Kurz and even stated that he thinks that Kurz will return as the lead candidate for the ÖVP during the next election.

However, Kurz himself is all but uncontroversial, even in his own party, where he lost favour with the more traditionalist and Christian party base.

When he first took over the conservative party in 2017, he reinvented the party into the New People’s Party. The rebranding was also accompanied by a change of the party colour – from the traditional black to turquoise.

While Kurz managed to put many of his “turquoise” intimates into positions of power within the party and the government, the regional governors and the party organisations at the state level remained “black.”

A spat between the two factions already became apparent in the days that led to his resignation. While the turquoise officials declared their unconditional support for Kurz, the governors on the state level started to criticise Kurz openly and pushed for his resignation.

“We have always had different points of view. I am one of the blacks, and my environment is black too,” the governor of the state of Tyrol said in an interview with Tiroler Tageszeitung after Kurz’ resignation.

Schallenberg himself neither belongs to the new “turquoise” nor the traditionalist “black” faction within the People’s Party and is a compromise candidate between the two.

When he first entered office as a foreign minister, it was under the expert government that led Austria between 2018 and 2019. He was not even a party member of the ÖVP at the time.

The conflict between the black and turquoise factions within the party also becomes apparent on whether Kurz could return as the party’s lead candidate.

Finance minister Bernot Blümel, who belongs to the inner circle of Kurz, said in an interview with Profil on Thursday that a return of Sebastian Kurz as the lead candidate would be “no problem at all” if he is cleared of the corruption accusations.

On the other hand, the governor of Styria, Hermann Schützenhöfer, stressed that Schallenberg is no puppet and that his position is “permanent.”

In an interview with VOL, the conservative governor of Vorarlberg, Markus Wallner, said that Kurz could be expelled from the People’s party if he was found guilty of corruption allegations.

Kurz is also losing his grip on the electorate, with Schallenberg getting higher approval ratings than him – even among conservative voters.

Analysts say that a lot will come down to whether new incriminating evidence is found against Kurz. If so, it would end his political career for good. If not, everything will come down to which of the two factions will come out on top.

(Oliver Noyan | EURACTIV.de)

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