Sebastian Kurz, former conservative wunderkind and Austrian chancellor, prompts government crisis by quitting politics

VIENNA — Two months after his resignation as Austria’s chancellor, Sebastian Kurz on Thursday threw the country’s government into crisis a second time, announcing his full departure from politics.

Within hours, his successor, Alexander Schallenberg, offered to resign, too. Schallenberg was the former foreign minister under Kurz. He was elected to the office of coalition secretary in October. Kurz’s conservative OVP party critics believed that Kurz was still in control of the affairs. It is likely that the party will elect a new leader, who may also be the chancellor.

Thursday’s announcement by Kurz, once hailed as Europe’s political wunderkind, puts him on the sidelines — at least for now — at the age of 35.

Kurz resigned as chancellor in October, amid corruption allegations he has denied. He was still the OVP head and the OVP’s conservative bloc leader in parliament. However, this position was becoming increasingly untenable.

In a news conference Thursday, Kurz said he “almost felt hunted.”

His daily life, he said, had become “a defense against accusations, allegations, insinuations and proceedings.”

Kurz also cited the birth of his son last week, saying it had taught him “how many more beautiful and important things there are outside of politics, too.”

Prosecutors allege that Kurz and his advisers helped engineer his rise to power by using taxpayer money to pay for falsified opinion polls and bribe a leading tabloid to publish them.

Kurz preempted a parliamentary confidence vote by stepping down in early October.

Last month, lawmakers unanimously voted to strip him of his parliamentary immunity, allowing an anti-graft investigation to move forward.

His departure from politics marks the end of speculation about a quick political comeback.

“The people didn’t want him to come back,” said Kathrin Stainer-Hammerle, a politics professor at the Carinthia University of Applied Sciences. It took some time, she said, for him and his party to fully grasp that a comeback is “no longer an option.”

Kurz dropped out of law school in his 20s to focus on politics, first leading the youth branch of Vienna’s conservatives. At 24, he became Austria’s secretary of integration, saying he wanted “to bring people into the middle of society” and help integrate newcomers.

Back then, he “was seen favorably among the migrant community,” said Peter Hajek, a political analyst with Public Opinion Strategies in Vienna.

But after becoming the country’s youngest foreign minister at 27, Kurz began taking a tougher stance on migration, at times rivaling the far-right party that had gained popularity when millions of migrants arrived in Europe in 2015.

In 2017, he became the youngest head of government in the world, initially leading a coalition with the far-right and then — after that government fell apart over the “Ibiza affair” — with the Green party.

He transformed Austrian politics and gave the country of 9 million people an at-times outsize influence in the European Union, a bloc of more than 440 million — earning a reputation for stalling reform projects.

With a tough stance on migration, youthful appearance and slick suits, he appealed to Austria’s center-right and conservative voters.

Conservatives in neighboring countries admired Kurz’s ability to push hard-line conservative values under a polished, media-savvy veneer, even though he did not fulfill many of his promises.

“With his charisma and his political talent, he would have had the power to win people over on big reforms — he just didn’t take that opportunity,” Hajek said.

Noack reported from Paris.

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