Demonstrators celebrate Austria government collapse

PTI, May 19, 2019, 12:29 PM IST

Vienna: After hours of chanting and whistling, thousands of demonstrators on Saturday cheered the collapse of Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz’s government over a corruption scandal — and the prospect of fresh elections.

“Kurz must go” cried the crowd that had built up in Vienna’s historic first district from late morning. As the news of fresh elections came through on demonstrators’ smartphones later, loud cheers erupted.

Expressing a widespread view that Kurz had too often excused the scandals of his coalition partner, the far-right Freedom Party (FPOe) led by Heinz-Christian Strache, social education worker Andreas Hallas said the vote was “an absolute necessity”.

“Anything else would have been an absolute catastrophe, politically,” said Hallas, adding he hoped for a new government without the FPOe and Kurz’s centre-right People’s Party (OeVP).

Hallas is among those who has been turning up for anti-govermnent demonstrations held — come rain or shine — every Thursday for more than six months.

But as 61-year-old Elvira Raffinger pointed out, “Today is a spontaneous gathering and that’s rare for Austria”, a country where street politics is not the norm.

In hidden-camera recordings published by German media Friday, Strache was seen promising public contracts in return for campaign help to a fake Russian backer over a boozy dinner in a villa on the resort island of Ibiza.

Isaac Heimbach, a 24-year-old biology student, said he thought the video was “just the tip of the iceberg, just a look behind the curtain” of the far-right leadership.

“I hope that this will open the eyes of Austrians who voted for the right,” he said as protesters around him waved banners that read “Now it’s over Mr Kurz”, “You all shame this country”, as well as “No place for the corrupt and power-hungry in Austria. All resign”.

Isabella Sedlak who works in Berlin said she had come to the chancellery to take part in “this exceptional moment”.

“We need fresh elections. We can’t just go back to the daily routine as if nothing happened because this is about the whole party structure, not a particular man,” she said.

The OeVP will however start the upcoming election campaign in a strong position, with opinion polls before the scandal showing Kurz’s popularity on the rise.

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