Austria's Interior Minister Karl Nehammer has been nominated to take over as leader of the conservative People's Party, which will most likely make him the country's next Chancellor (or head of government) following Thursday's abrupt decision by Alexander Schallenberg to resign.
Nehammer will thus become Austria's sixth chancellor in 5 years. Schallenberg's resignation was a direct result of another former chancellor and party leader, Sebastian Kurz, announcing that he's getting out of politics altogether, it was announced.
But Schallenberg is also the one who announced a mandatory vaccination against COVID-19 effective Feb. 1 for the entire country, which resulted in large demonstrations nationwide where police and military officers sided with protesters.
Schallenberg, a long-time ally of Kurz's, said Thursday that he never intended to become the leader of the People's Party (OVP).
Kurz, 35, resigned in October amid a criminal corruption investigation over a purported influence-buying scandal. Schallenberg's departure Thursday also led to a flurry of resignations, including those of finance minister Gernot Blumel and education minister Heinz Fasmann. The new interior minister will be Gerhard Karner, it was reported.
Nehammer served in the army for several years prior to becoming a communications adviser to the party. He entered politics in 2017 and became interior minister in 2020.
Austria has had five permanent chancellors in the post and two acting chancellors since 2016. Only Brigitte Bierlein was from a party other than the OVP.
Almost two months after taking office, the Chancellor announced his resignation from his scandal-ridden predecessor, Sebastian Kurz.
In a statement released Thursday, Schallenberg said he would stay in office until his conservative Austrian People's Party (ÖVP) agreed on its next chairman. I am firmly convinced that both offices - head of government and party chairman of the Austrian party with the most votes - should soon be filled by one person again. Then he added he would not seek to become party chairman.
I will therefore make my position as Chancellor available as soon as the relevant course has been set within the party.
Despite being regarded as as an accidental chancellor with no power base of his own, Schallenberg moved on with ideas of full lockdowns and mandatory vaccinations that resulted in popular unrest.
The ÖVP is one of the most important traditional parties in Austria, but under Kurz it was largely built around him and left no obvious successor. Most polls showed the ÖVP had a lead of at least 10 points over the opposition Social Democrats, until the investigation into Kurz in October. Polls now show the two parties head to head.
Austrian political analysts believe early elections are unlikely, since both the ÖVP and the Greens would most probably lose seats. The current parliament is to last until 2023.
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