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‘Unimaginable’ for Kurz to continue as Austria’s leader if convicted, says Vice Chancellor

The future of Austria's Chancellor Sebastian Kurz in office would be "unimaginable" if he were convicted of corruption, the Vice Chancellor and leader of the Greens Werner Kogler said on Saturday.

'Unimaginable' for Kurz to continue as Austria's leader if convicted, says Vice Chancellor
(Photo by JOE KLAMAR / AFP)

Public prosecutors are investigating Austria’s Chancellor Sebastian Kurz for allegedly making false statements during a parliamentary inquiry.

When asked about the future of Austria’s leader in relation to the ongoing inquiry, Kogler told ORF radio, “A convicted Chancellor is in fact unimaginable.”

Kurz said in May that he told the truth and would not step down as Chancellor, saying, “I always answered all (the committee’s) questions truthfully.”

READ ALSO: Alleged mastermind in Austria’s ‘Ibiza-gate’ video arrested in Berlin

The Constitutional Court (VfGH) has ordered Kurz to hand over additional email evidence to the inquiry. In an interview with the ZiB2 programme, the Chancellor denied the charges and said, “Of course I will not resign”.

But Kogler’s comments put that in doubt, suggesting that the coalition between the Greens and Kurz’s conservatives could be at risk.

The Vice Chancellor said it’s necessary to wait for the outcome, whether Kurz is charged or not and then follow the case brought against him.

But if there was a conviction, he said, “Then we are on a different level in terms of assessing whether someone is fit for office.”

sebastian-kurz-austria

(Photo by Peter Kneffel / POOL / AFP)

“It is hard to imagine that Austria can afford to have a convicted head of government.”

The investigation comes after the opposition Social Democrats (SPOe) and NEOS parties accused Kurz of not telling the truth in front of the committee of MPs, who are investigating the fallout from the so-called “Ibizagate” scandal that brought down Kurz’s previous government in 2019.

READ MORE: Ex-leader of Austrian far right charged with corruption

A secret video, filmed in a luxury Ibiza villa, showed Kurz’s then vice-chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache from the far-right Freedom Party (FPOe) seemingly offering public contracts to a woman believed to be a Russian oligarch’s niece in return for financial and political support.

It was published by two German media outlets, Der Spiegel and Süddeutsche Zeitung.

In May 2019, Kurz’s coalition collapsed when Strache was forced to resign as leader of the far-right Freedom Party and as Austrian vice chancellor.

Kurz returned to office in early 2020 in a coalition with the Greens.

Austria’s leader and members of his party have said the case against him is politically motivated and have cast doubt on the anti-corruption prosecutors’ office in charge of the case.

The parliamentary committee looking into the scandal has since broadened its focus to include other accusations of wrongdoing, including by politicians from Kurz’s People’s Party (OeVP).

The latest investigation comes as the OeVP’s party financing and other practices have increasingly come under the spotlight.

In February OeVP Finance Minister Gernot Bluemel’s home was raided as part of a separate probe into possible party financing offences.

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Reader question: Can I vote in Austria’s presidential elections?

On October 9th, Austria will vote to elect a new president, but who can vote in these national elections?

Reader question: Can I vote in Austria's presidential elections?

Austria’s presidential election will take place on October 9th, with seven candidates vying to take over at the Hofburg – the official workplace of the country’s president.

According to opinion polls, the favourite to win is the current president Alexander Van der Bellen, who is running for reelection.

READ ALSO: Austrian presidential elections: Who are the seven candidates?

A presidential candidate must be an Austrian citizen, be eligible to vote in the National Assembly and be at least 35 years old on election day.

Members of ruling dynasties or families that reigned in the past are not eligible to run in the presidential election. This is to avoid a return to monarchy in Austria via the role of the Federal President.

Who can vote in these elections?

The only people allowed to vote in Austrian federal elections are Austrian citizens aged 16 or above.

That means foreigners – even those born and raised in Austria, are not entitled to choose a new president. Unless, of course, they take up Austrian citizenship (usually giving up their original citizenship).

Since Austria has a large proportion of foreigners in the population, many people will not be able to vote in these elections.

READ ALSO: ‘I pay taxes in Austria’: Anger as foreigners barred from Vienna council vote

In fact, some 18 percent of residents (or 1.4 million people) in Austria over the age of 16 do not have the right to vote because they are not citizens, with the highest concentration of ineligible people in Vienna, Innsbruck and Salzburg.

In comparison, 20 years ago, Austria had just 580,000 people without the right to vote.

Statistics Austria data evaluated by the APA shows that around 30 percent of the voting-age population in Vienna, Innsbruck and Salzburg are not entitled to vote. In Linz and Graz, it is about 25 percent.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How does Austria’s presidential election work?

However, there are some smaller communities in Austria where the number of people without the right to vote is even higher.

In Jungholz in Tyrol, 66 percent of the population are not eligible, followed by 51 percent in Mittelberg in Vorarlberg. Kittsee in Burgenland and Wolfsthal in Lower Austria also have high proportions of Slovakian residents who cannot vote.

Austrian citizenship

Currently, in Austria, if someone wants to take up citizenship via naturalisation, they must undergo an extensive and expensive process and fulfil specific criteria.

Generally, there needs to be at least ten years of lawful and uninterrupted residence in Austria. But there are exceptions for those with citizenship of an EU or EEA country, those born in Austria, or married to an Austrian, for example.

READ ALSO: Could Austria change the rules around citizenship?

The main hurdles, however, include having to give up any other citizenships, as Austria doesn’t allow for dual citizenship in naturalisation cases with few exceptions, and the payment of a high fee, which depends on the municipality, but could reach thousands of euros.

And though the topic of easing the requirements has come up several times in Austria, the country doesn’t seem any closer to changing its citizenship laws.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: Where in Europe can non-EU foreigners vote in local elections?

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