Austrian chancellor stepping down

Austrian Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg is stepping down from the job after only two months.
Austrian Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg is stepping down from the job after only two months.

Austrian Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg is stepping down to make way for whoever takes over as leader of his conservative party.

The announcement on Thursday came hours after party strongman Sebastian Kurz said he was leaving politics altogether.

Kurz stunned Austria and left a power vacuum in his People's Party (OVP) with his announcement. He had quit as chancellor in October at the behest of his coalition partner, the Greens, after prosecutors opened a corruption inquiry, though he remained party head and a lawmaker.

Schallenberg, a career diplomat, has been in the job for less than two months since taking over from Kurz.

Several Austrian media have reported that Interior Minister Karl Nehammer, an enforcer of Kurz's hard line on immigration, is most likely to become party leader and chancellor when the OVP leadership meets on Friday to pick Kurz's successor.

"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," Schallenberg said in a statement, adding that he did not want to be party leader.

"I am therefore making my post as chancellor available as soon as the relevant course has been set within the party."

Schallenberg has been dogged by allegations that he is little more than Kurz's puppet keeping the seat warm while his political master seeks to clear his own name.

Kurz, 35, is one of 10 people suspected of varying degrees of breach of trust, corruption and bribery in a case in which prosecutors allege public funds were used to secretly commission manipulated polling that was published with a view to helping Kurz become party leader and then chancellor in 2017.

Kurz denies wrongdoing.

Australian Associated Press