The State of Politics in Austria

Re-votes, recounts and general unhappiness with outcomes of referendums and elections seem to be a theme that is repeating across the world. After Brexit, many in the UK signed a petition for another referendum to decide whether Britain should remain in the EU.

More recently, Jill Stein in the US has started an effort for a recount of votes in some of the states that determined Trump’s victory.

Politics in Austria are now also to follow a similar trend, with a re-vote for the Presidential elections taking place on Sunday.

The two candidates in this year’s election are Alexander Van Der Bellen, from the Austrian Green Party (The Greens), and Norbert Hofer from the Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ).

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The Austrian election system is based on two rounds. Parties compete for 50% of the vote in the first round, and if this does not occur, the two parties with the highest percentage of votes are then carried over to the second round, where the majority wins.

The election takes place every 6 years, and no President may serve for more than two terms. In the primary round this year, Hofer of FPÖ had a majority, but not 50% of the vote. Thus, he and Van Der Bellen of The Greens went head to head in the second round. On 23rd May 2016, Van Der Bellen won by a majority, but the results were annulled on 1st July.

The results were annulled after it was found that electoral rules, as postulated in federal election laws, were not followed in 14 districts. Almost 80,000 votes had been counted improperly, either prematurely or for absentees. A re-vote was therefore scheduled for the 4th December.

As it was with the EU referendum and the US election, it is difficult and perhaps futile to predict the outcome of Austria’s revote. The candidates are polarised in their policies and views.

Hofer’s right-wing rhetoric has shocked many around the world. Aged 45

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Graffiti on Hofer’s campaign shows a depiction of him as Adolf Hitler. Picture source: eunews.it

and previously an aeronautical engineer, he is one of the youngest ever to take the lead role in a political party in Austria. Hofer is staunchly anti-immigration, and he thus carries a Glock 9mm pistol on him for what he describes as “a natural consequence”.

 

 

He also seems to share his passion for guns with his family, as he likes to take pictures of himself and his four children on gun ranges.

He parades his nationalist ideology by wearing a blue cornflower, reminiscent of the Nazi symbol to promote a “greater Germany”. A Turkish taxi driver, who has been living in Vienna for 26 years and did not want to be named, said he is fearful of the “fascism” that the election of Hofer may bring.

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According to Van Der Bellen, his two weaknesses are cigarettes and Donald Duck comics. Picture credit: dietagepresse.com

Some voters commonly describe 72-year-old Van Der Bellen as ‘the lesser evil of the two’. Van Der Bellen was an economics professor who used to teach at the University of Vienna, and was a member of Austria’s Social Democratic party before he joined The Greens.

His change in political stance is something which has lost him credibility in the presidential race. In a stark contrast to Hofer, Van Der Bellen is pro-migrant, pointing out that he himself is the “child of refugees who has received a lot from Austria”. He wishes to create a “United States of Europe”, where minorities and migrants are respected.

Similarities between Austria’s elections and USA’s elections are obvious. Hofer’s harkening to Hitler is similar to Donald Trump’s comparison to the Nazi figurehead which was brewing in the run up to the election. Van Der Bellen’s place as “the lesser evil of the two” places him level with the label Hillary Clinton is often given. Is Austria to reverberate the state of US politics?

Lukas Gecevičius, a 22-year-old animator from London who has recently moved to Austria, says “there is reason to trust Austria’s government”, and says he is not intimidated by any of the potential outcomes.

Whilst the President of the United States is the forerunner in determining the direction of the country, the role of the Austrian President is more symbolic. The Austrian President’s acts are determined largely by the advice of the Chancellor and the Cabinet. Perhaps then, whatever the outcome, Austria’s President may not alter the face of the country’s politics in a way through which it becomes unrecognisable.

Brexit and the election of Donald Trump have illustrated the swaying of western politics towards an increasingly right-wing stance. After witnessing Brexit in London, then moving to Austria and learning about the politics there, Lukas concluded that “right-wing has become a thing of trend”.

Nevertheless, one may find it worrying that the state of Austria’s politics is all too similar to the United States’ politics. Whether or not Austria will also move further towards a right-wing direction will be decided on Sunday.

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