Austria gets first chancellor after scandal

Austria has named a top lawyer, Brigitte Bierlein, to be interim chancellor – the first woman to occupy the post – ahead of early elections.

She replaces Sebastian Kurz, whose government lost a confidence vote in parliament over a video sting scandal.

The scandal involved Mr Kurz’s far-right ally Heinz-Christian Strache, secretly filmed offering public contracts to a woman posing as a Russian oligarch’s niece.

A September early election is expected.

The appointment of Ms Bierlein, 69, was announced by President Alexander Van der Bellen. The choice was agreed with Austrian party leaders.

She has been president of the Austrian Constitutional Court since 2003, and earlier held senior court positions in Vienna.

The collapse of the Kurz coalition government has paved the way for technocrats to take some key posts in an interim government.

Born in Vienna in 1949, Ms Bierlein had ambitions to become an artist, but ultimately chose to pursue a career in law instead.

On the advice of her mother, she studied at the University of Vienna, graduating in 1971.

She went on to have a successful career, becoming a public prosecutor at the age of 27. In 1990, she was appointed Advocate General of Austria’s Procurator’s Office, becoming the first woman to hold the position.

From 2003, she served as Vice President of the Constitutional Court. She held the position until she took over the presidency in 2018, her candidacy backed by Mr Kurz’s right-wing coalition government.

Politically, she is considered to be right-wing with socially conservative views. Her apparently close ties with Mr Kurz’s People’s Party and Mr Strache’s Freedom Party have been noted by Austrian media.

Her views, however, have not always chimed with those parties. Last year she said the passing of a law aimed at banning Muslim girls from wearing headscarves in primary schools was “problematic”.

Appearing to contradict the coalition government, she told Der Standard “all religious communities should be treated equally”. –BBC

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