Brigitte Bierlein has been appointed as Austria’s first female chancellor following the vote of no confidence in the government of Sebastian Kurz on Monday.
The first successful vote of no confidence in modern-day Austria, this comes as the latest development in the ongoing political crisis sparked by ‘Ibiza Gate’.
Kurz, leader of the centre-right Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP), had been governing in a coalition with the far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ). But the coalition collapsed after a video emerged from 2017 showing two senior FPÖ figures, leader Heinz-Christian Strache and deputy leader Johann Gudenus, offering public contracts to a woman claiming to be the niece of a Russian oligarch in exchange for Russian political support. Both resigned following the release of the video.
While Kurz called a snap election, he had still hoped to lead a minority government. However the main opposition party, the Social Democrats (SPÖ), along with former coalition partners, the FPÖ, both backed a motion of no confidence. This comes as the culmination of an increasingly tense political climate, in which the chancellor had faced multiple accusations from members of the opposition of not engaging in dialogue as well as using the scandal to consolidate his own power.
Bierlein has had a long and successful legal career, and is the current president of Austria’s constitutional court. She will be formally appointed by President Van der Bellen within the coming days.
As interim chancellor, she will also be required to select a new cabinet. But the new government will be technocratic, in place until September when new elections are expected. Its main task will be administration and ensuring the smooth running of the country, rather than passing any major legislation.
In a televised statement, Van der Bellen stated that they both had agreed to appoint mostly civil servants as ministers. Bierlein herself also has no official political affiliation, although she is seen by many as holding right-wing views. She referred to her appointment as “surprising”, but remarked that she “will seek to win Austrians’ trust”.
Sebastian Kurz’s tweet shortly after Berlein’s appointment showed willingness to offer his support, calling her both “exceptionally competent” and “experienced”.
If current political opinion is anything to go by, it seems likely that Kurz will not be gone for long. His party is currently polling as high as 38% nationally. Earlier in the week, the ÖVP also had very good night in the European elections, emerging victorious with almost 35% of the vote and winning 7 of Austria’s 18 seats in the European Parliament.
For now, however, the effects of the Ibiza scandal continue to reverberate throughout Austria’s political system.