Austrian president swears in caretaker cabinet following coalition collapse

Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen has Wednesday sworn in a caretaker cabinet to replace ministers who were either dismissed or quit following a corruption scandal.

The scandal came to light on Friday, when former vice-chancellor and leader of the right-wing populist Freedom Party Heinz-Christian Strache was caught on secret video appearing to offer public contracts in exchange for political support.

Strache subsequently resigned from both roles, triggering a collapse in the coalition with the conservative People’s Party led by Chancellor Sebastian Kurz.

The former Interior Minister and Strache confidant Herbert Kickl, who was dismissed by Van der Bellen at the request of Kurz, will now be replaced by the former President of the Supreme Court of Justice Eckart Ratz.

Walter Poeltner, former high-ranking official and jurist, will take on the social affairs ministry, military officer Johann Luif will oversee the defence ministry, and businesswoman Valerie Hackl will be in charge of the transport ministry.

All three are replacing the remaining Freedom Party ministers who voluntarily resigned in the wake of Kickl’s dismissal.

The new interim ministers will receive an advisor from the People’s Party, though Kurz denied that this would be done to gain party influence, but rather as practical assistance for people new to their roles, who are glad to have the support.

Current Finance Minister Hartwig Loeger will take over Strache’s role as vice-chancellor, while Family Minister Juliane Bogner-Strauss has been put in charge of sports ministry.

Kurz said the interim ministers would primarily see that their ministries run effectively, and would only make political decisions when absolutely necessary.

Early elections to determine a new government are presently scheduled for September.