“Whizz-kid”, “Basti Fantasti” and “Messiah” – some of the nicknames given to Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz when in 2017 he became the world’s youngest democratically elected leader at just 31 years old.
But less than four years and two governments later – one with the far right, then one with the Greens – Kurz dramatically announced his resignation on Saturday amid a corruption probe.
Kurz and nine others face allegations that government money was used in a corrupt deal to ensure positive media coverage between 2016 and 2018.
Kurz denied the allegations as “false” and vowed to clear his name, saying he will “be able to clarify it; I’m sure “.
– ‘Saint Sebastian’ –
Growing up in Vienna as the only child of a secretary and teacher, Kurz became active in the OeVP at the age of 16.
After abandoning his law studies to devote himself to politics, he first entered the government in 2011 as integration secretary, then as foreign minister two years later, at the age of 27.
Full of praise for Hungarian populist Prime Minister Viktor Orban, Kurz claimed credit for closing the trail of migrants in the Balkans in 2016.
Riding a wave of resentment against traditional political figures, Kurz took control of the OeVP in 2017 and turned it into the “Kurz List,” a movement centered on his own image.
He quickly wiped out the OeVP’s coalition with the center-left Social Democrats (SPOe), prompting a snap election in which his campaign – as flawless as his trademark gelled hair – propelled him to the top position .
The youth and dynamism attributed to him by his supporters are also at the forefront of an official biography whose sycophantic tone has been widely mocked on social networks.
Passages describing how Kurz “said his first words at the age of 12 months” and praising his “bravery” as a teenager have prompted critics to dismiss him as a “San Sebastian” hagiography.
– ‘Political cascade’ –
Indeed, Kurz has stunned observers time and time again.
His coalition with the far-right Freedom Party (FPOe) collapsed in 2019 when his junior partner was engulfed in a corruption scandal.
Subsequently, Kurz himself became the first chancellor in post-war Austrian history to be removed from office in a vote of no confidence in parliament.
But in a snap election later that year, Kurz again led his OeVP in the top polls, even managing to broaden his base of support, garnering disgruntled FPOe voters.
In order to have the majority necessary to govern, he then formed a coalition with the Greens in January 2020, a first at the national level.
But Kurz has kept the fight against immigration as one of his core promises, which has caused frequent friction with his new partners.
It was the Greens who ultimately increased the pressure on Kurz.
Vice-Chancellor and Greens leader Werner Kogler on Friday asked the OeVP to appoint another chancellor, saying Kurz was “no longer fit to perform his duties”.
Earlier this year, the Greens stood by the Chancellor’s side when prosecutors announced they were investigating Kurz for giving false testimony to a parliamentary committee in another case.
In the past, some have accused Kurz of being a “mini-dictator” and of running the OeVP like a “one-man show”.
While some of his admirers have drawn parallels with the equally young French President Emmanuel Macron, his detractors see him more as a budding Orban.
Kurz’s boycott of the UN migration pact, cuts in social assistance for asylum seekers and a series of other anti-migration measures have made him as controversial a figure as his Hungarian counterpart.
At the same time, he has been careful to present himself as pro-European and to avoid any slip-up – at least publicly, until a series of compromising messages leaked from investigative files in recent months – including some have led to the allegations against him.
© 2021 AFP