Austria moves towards September 29 election as parliament draws towards close

FILE PHOTO: Austrian Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache reacts as he addresses the media in Vienna, Austria, May 18, 2019. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger

VIENNA (Reuters) – Austria on Wednesday took a step towards setting September 29 as the date of its next parliamentary election as lawmakers passed a bill ending the current legislative period in a few weeks.

Austria’s coalition government collapsed last month after a sting video forced the head of the far-right Freedom Party (FPO), Heinz-Christian Strache, to step down and prompted conservative Chancellor Sebastian Kurz to call off their alliance.

Kurz tried to remain in his post as head of what was effectively a minority government but parliament dismissed him and his cabinet, saying he deserved at least some of the blame for the political crisis set off by the sting, in which Strache appeared to offer to fix state contracts.

A new provisional cabinet of civil servants headed by a top judge is now in place until the next parliamentary election, which has long been expected to take place in September, less than two years after the last one.

The lower house on Wednesday passed a bill ending this legislative period but which, because of an amendment backed by the Social Democrats (SPO) and the FPO, will only take effect on July 3.

That means Sunday, Sept. 29, is the earliest date on which a parliamentary election can legally be held, and it is also the likeliest.

Kurz’s centre-right People’s Party (OVP) had pushed for an earlier date, and President Alexander Van der Bellen had also called for the vote to be held as soon as possible. The SPO and FPO support holding it on Sept. 29.

The next step is for the cabinet to set a date for the election in coordination with a parliamentary committee, which will happen once the law comes into force next month.

Reporting by Francois Murphy; Editing by Gareth Jones

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