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Government crisis: Kunasek resigns, LTGEN Luif interim successor
LTGEN Johann Luif might just have become the shortest-serving defence minister in Austria’s Second Republic. Sworn in last Wednesday after the resignation of former minister of defence, Mario Kunasek, a parliamentary motion of no confidence this Monday against the government put a premature end to his term. He remains in office as acting minister in an arrangement expected to last until end of week.
The turmoil, now known as ‘Ibiza-gate’, started, when on May 18 a secretly filmed video from 2017 showed future Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache of the far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ) expressing highly dubious views on his office, press freedom and corruption. Strache and an FPÖ colleague who also starred in the video were forced to resign the next day. When the FPÖ’s coalition partner, the People’s Party (ÖVP) also demanded the resignation of minister of the interior, Herbert Kickl (FPÖ), himself not connected to the scandal, his fellow FPÖ ministers, among them former defence minister Mario Kunasek, too resigned in solidarity. On Wednesday, experts picked by Chancellor Sebastian Kurz (ÖVP) were sworn in as their successors to serve until the early elections in September.
On May 27, however, a successful motion of no confidence in parliament prematurely ended the term of Kurz’ government. It is now the Federal President’s turn to name a chancellor who will then pick new ministers. Until the interim government is appointed and sworn in, current ministers will carry on day-to-day functions, with former finance minister Loeger to assume the function of acting chancellor; this arrangement is expected to last for a few days. Then, the interim government is to pick up until parliamentary elections in September, with an exact date yet to be confirmed.
This makes Kunasek’s successor, three-star general Johann Luif, currently deputy chief of the general staff, the shortest serving defence minister of the Second Republic. 60 year-old Luif, formerly in charge of the Burgenland territorial military command, has frequently deployed to the Balkans as part of Austrian contingents: in 2000 in charge of Austria’s KFOR contribution, in 2011/12 as KFOR’s deputy commander, and 2014-16 as EUFOR’s (Bosnia-Herzegovina) commanding officer. Picking up his third star in late 2016, he assumed the role of acting deputy chief of the general staff in mid-2018. The Bundesheer’s labour union initially opposed his choice as defence minister, stating that what is the effective promotion of an active general ahead of his peers would be met with incomprehension.
Potential candidates for the minister of defence – or Luif’s chances of being reappointed by Kurz’ successor – have not been discussed publicly. What is clear is that former Minister Kunasek has left the MoD at a time of frequent change, after a series of structural reforms and his consenting to a severely declining defence budget from 2021. His (long-term) successor will have to deal with long-open questions regarding the army’s ageing equipment amid tightening austerity.
Header image: Austrian Armed Forces/Pendl
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