VIENNA — President Kurt Waldheim has threatened to dissolve the Austrian government if it accepts a report questioning his World War II conduct, but the coalition parties are discussing his replacement, government sources said Thursday.
Waldheim has the constitutional right to dismiss the government and ask another politician to try to form a new one.
But it is considered impossible for the government to unseat Waldheim by constitutional means. Under Austria's constitution, a president can be unseated only if he violates the constitution or if the government and two-thirds of Parliament agree to hold a national referendum on the issue.
Reports from government sources and the daily Die Presse newspaper indicated that even Waldheim's supporters in the conservative People's Party, which governs in coalition with the Socialists, are backing away from the president.
The sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the coalition parties are discussing possibly replacing Waldheim with Josef Ratzenboeck, head of the People's Party in Upper Austria province.
Ratzenboeck met with Socialist Chancellor Franz Vranitzky in Vienna on Wednesday, the sources told reporters.
The conservative Die Presse, which has backed Waldheim, also reported that talks are under way in the coalition for a successor to Waldheim. It said Ratzenboeck denied that he would agree now to take over the largely ceremonial office of president.
According to government sources, the president met Monday with Vranitzky and Deputy Chancellor Alois Mock, head of the People's Party and a staunch Waldheim supporter.
At that meeting, Waldheim demanded that the government reject a report by a panel of six historians questioning his integrity during World War II, and he threatened to dismiss the government if it didn't, the sources said.
Waldheim, former secretary general of the United Nations, has denied allegations that he participated in war crimes while serving with the German army in the Balkans during World War II. The allegations were raised during his 1986 presidential campaign.
The commission report, presented to the government Monday, indicated no evidence could be found that Waldheim directly participated in war crimes, but it concluded that Waldheim was in "close proximity" to criminal actions, and it left open the question of whether he is guilty of any crime.