BERLIN – Karl Nehammer was sworn in Monday as Austria's third chancellor in two months, capping a round of upheaval triggered by the decision last week of Sebastian Kurz, the country's dominant political figure of recent years, to bow out of politics.
Nehammer, 49, has been Austria's interior minister since early 2020. He also is taking over as leader of the conservative Austrian People's Party, which Kurz led to election wins in 2017 and 2019.
President Alexander Van der Bellen said at a swearing-in ceremony for the reshuffled government that “determined" action against the coronavirus pandemic must be the government's top priority, and encouraged it to restore “trust in politics that, I think, has been shaken for many people in recent weeks.”
Kurz resigned as chancellor in early October after prosecutors announced that he was one of the targets of an investigation into suspected bribery and breach of trust related to his rise to power. Kurz’s junior coalition partners, the environmentalist Greens, had demanded his replacement in October. He was succeeded as chancellor by Alexander Schallenberg.
Last week, Kurz — who had kept his party's leadership — announced that he was quitting politics. Schallenberg then announced his resignation, arguing that the chancellor should be the leader of the People's Party, and he didn't plan to seek the party post. Finance Minister Gernot Bluemel, another Kurz ally, also quit politics.
Nehammer heads a coalition government with the Greens. It remains to be seen whether the alliance will hold until the next scheduled election in 2024. Schallenberg returned to his previous post as foreign minister.
The latest leadership change comes in the middle of a lockdown imposed in an effort to halt a wave of coronavirus infections. Those restrictions are scheduled to remain in place until Dec. 11. Austria also has pledged to be the first European country to mandate vaccines beginning Feb. 1.
On Friday, Van der Bellen said he was amused by cartoons showing his Hofburg palace as “a revolving door for ministers or a new drive-in for the many swearings-in." But he suggested that he wasn't amused by the show Nehammer's party has put on.
“As the party with the most votes, the People's Party can of course decide itself who it wants to nominate and propose for ministerial jobs,” he said in an address to the nation. “But it must also be aware that this is about filling the highest offices of state and not about party logic.”