VIENNA – Austria’s third conservative chancellor in two months, Karl Nehammer, took office on Monday with the aim of pulling the coalition government out of months of scandal-infested unrest and guiding the country out of its current coronavirus lockdown.
Nehammer, 49, was sworn in to President Alexander Van der Bellen shortly after 1 p.m. (12 p.m. GMT). As Home Secretary since last year, he was the enforcer of former Chancellor Sebastian Kurz’s hard line on immigration and four national blockades. He is now the first head of government of the post-Kurz era.
“We don’t know what the virus will surprise us with next,” Van der Bellen said during the swearing-in, before which Nehammer was booed by a small crowd protesting the restrictions on coronaviruses.
“We must not create false expectations and promise nothing that subsequently turns out to be impractical,” said Van der Bellen in an apparent blow to Kurz, who said months ago that there would be no more restrictions on people vaccinated against COVID. -19.
Conservative star Kurz, 35, stunned much of the country by announcing on Thursday that he was stepping down as leader of the People’s Party (OVP) and quitting politics, saying he had since lost interest. the birth of her son last month. The party chose Nehammer to succeed him as leader on Friday.
Kurz stepped down as chancellor in October at the behest of his coalition partner, the left-wing Greens, because he had been the subject of a criminal investigation on suspicion of corruption offenses. Kurz’s supporters had hoped he would quickly clear his name and return as Chancellor. He denies any wrongdoing.
Prosecutors suspect Kurz’s allies of using public funds to secretly sponsor manipulated polls that were published in a newspaper in an attempt to help him come to power in 2017, the year he became leader of the OVP then chancellor, forming a coalition with the Freedom Party.
Nehammer takes back a party in the turmoil which since 2017 has largely been built around Kurz.
Nehammer said on Friday he planned to maintain the public order agenda which was at the heart of Kurz’s call but also a sticking point with the Greens. His top priority will be the coronavirus pandemic, he said, as Austria tries to keep infections down while coming out of lockdown next week.
He also needs to repair the damaged image of the OVP which has lost what most polls have shown to be a lead of at least 10 percentage points over its closest rival, the Social Democrats, since Kurz was placed under investigation.
Neither the OVP nor the Greens say they want an early election just yet, but most analysts expect the coalition not to last until the end of this legislature in three years. In interviews in the newspapers this weekend, the leader of the Greens Werner Kogler did not rule out the holding of early elections next year.
By FranÃ§ois Murphy