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A Double Resignation Shakes Austrian Politics in Aftermath of Scandal

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BRUSSELS — Hours after the scandal-tainted former chancellor of Austria, Sebastian Kurz, announced on Thursday that he was leaving politics, hissuccessor as chancellor also announced that he would step down.

The double departure injected a new jolt of angst into the unsettled politics of Austria, roiled for the past two months by Mr. Kurz’s abrupt resignation as chancellor.

His successor, Alexander Schallenberg, is a close ally and served him as foreign minister. But with Mr. Kurz quitting politics and the leadership of the ruling Austrian People’s Party, Mr. Schallenberg said he would step down as soon as a new party chief was named, saying he believed the party leader and the chancellor should be the same person.

A new party leader could be named as early as Friday, with the current interior minister, Karl Nehammer, who has taken a tough line on immigration, favored for the job, Austrian media reported.

Mr. Kurz, 35, quit as chancellor on Oct. 9 in the face of a growing scandal over influence-buying and corruption that is the subject of a criminal investigation.

He said Thursday that he wanted to spend more time with his partner and newborn son, claiming that “a new chapter begins in my life that I can open today.”

But many believe that Mr. Kurz, who at 31 became one of the world’s youngest democratically elected heads of government in 2017, will not stay out of politics forever.

Mr. Kurz, who has dominated Austrian politics, was considered a “Wunderwuzzi” — a whiz kid — and at 27, in 2013, he became foreign minister.

But even his first term as chancellor ended in scandal. He was criticized for having gained office by entering a coalition with the far-right Freedom Party. And then in 2019 the Freedom Party became engulfed in a massive corruption scandal, the coalition collapsed and Parliament dismissed Mr. Kurz, forcing new elections.

Mr. Kurz was re-elected in 2019, but his most recent difficulties came from within his own party, which is accused of paying off newspapers for favorable coverage.

In October, prosecutors ordered raids at the chancellery and the finance ministry, investigating allegations that Mr. Kurz and party insiders used public money to pay for opinion polls tailored to boost his image, and then put lucrative public advertisements in a tabloid newspaper, Österreich, so it would publish the polls and provide supportive coverage. The advertisements were worth a reported 1.3 million euros, or about $1.5 million.

Mr. Kurz and nine other individuals, as well as three organizations, are under investigation. Mr. Kurz denies any wrongdoing, as does the newspaper.

While resigning as chancellor, Mr. Kurz had retained his leadership of the party and of the party’s parliamentary group. Mr. Schallenberg, 52, a convivial former diplomat and former foreign ministry spokesman before becoming foreign minister, had been considered a placeholder carrying out Mr. Kurz’s policies until Mr. Kurz could clear his name and return to office.

Mr. Kurz’s decision to quit politics made Mr. Schallenberg’s resignation inevitable.

In a statement early Thursday evening, Mr. Schallenberg said: “I firmly believe that both positions — head of government and leader of the Austrian party with the most votes — should soon once again be held by the same person. I am therefore making my post as chancellor available as soon as the relevant course has been set within the party.”

Mr. Kurz spelled out his own epitaph — even if it’s possibly temporary —on Thursday. “I am neither a saint nor a criminal, I am a person with strengths and weaknesses,” he said. As a politician, he said, “you also constantly have the feeling you’re being hunted.”

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