The European Elections Monitor

Open panel Open panel
The European Elections Monitor
Austria - Presidential Election

Presidential election in Austria
Up-date a week before the ballot

Presidential election in Austria
Up-date a week before the ballot

19/04/2010 - D-7

Around 6.3 million Austrians are called to vote on 24th April to elect their Head of State. The role of the President in Austria is essential honorary.

There are 3 candidates:
- Heinz Fischer, 61, outgoing Head of State, collected 45,000 signatures from voters (every candidate must present a minimum of 6,000 voter signatures or obtain support from at least 5 members of the National Council, Parliament's lower chamber) to be authorised as a candidate for the Presidency.
- Barbara Rosenkranz, 51, the Freedom Party candidate (FPÖ), who collected 10,500 voter signatures.
- Rudolf Gehring, 52, leader of the Christians party (CPÖ), a conservative party that is not represented in Parliament, collected 8,000 signatures.

Ulrich de Habsburg-Lorraine, nephew three times removed of Otto de Habsburg-Lorraine (himself the eldest son of the last Emperor of Austria, Charles I) and also green party town councillor of Wolfsberg (Carinthia) since 1987, had expressed a desire to stand for the presidential election on 24th April, but members of the Habsburg dynasty have been banned from standing for President ever since the exile law of 3rd April 1919. By voting this measure, the Republican parties wanted to prevent the fallen sovereigns from destabilising the young Republic. "I am an Austrian who is disadvantaged by his genes" declared Ulrich de Habsburg-Lorraine. The descendant of the imperial dynasty had given up his job as town councillor to run for presidency and had collected 4,000 voter signatures.
The constitutional Council to which he applied rejected his request to stand as candidate, but indicated that the question of the ban on descendants of the imperial dynasty, preventing them from standing for president, could be looked at again after the vote.

For the first time in the history of the Austrian Republic, the Popular Party (ÖVP) has decided not to present a presidential candidate. Erwin Pröll, governor of Lower Austria since 1992 and seen as his party's potential candidate, finally withdrew from the race. The ÖVP has decided not to support any of the 3 contender candidates.
The Alliance for the Future of Austria (BZÖ), another extreme right party and the Greens have decided not to present any candidate in the presidential elections to be held on 24th April. Eva Glawischnig-Piesczek, spokesman for the Greens, announced that she would vote for Heinz Fischer. She called Barbara Rosenkranz's candidature a "disgrace" for Austria. Another member of the Greens, Harald Walser, has requested cancellation of Barbara Rosenkranz's candidature, due to her remarks on the prohibition law (the extreme right candidate has suggested that this should be either abandoned or reformed). This law, voted in 1947, bans any propagation of Nazi ideology, along with any support for or founding of a neo-Nazi organisation or party (this is one of the strictest laws in Europe). Harald Walser regretted that the FPÖ candidate had gone back on her remarks after the boss of Kronen Zeitung (one of the most widely read newspapers in Austria with 3 million readers a day), Hans Dichland, asked her to do so "The only acceptable position would be for her to withdraw her candidature" declared Harald Walser.

Back in March Barbara Rosenkranz declared herself to be in favour of freedom of expression and said that "the expression of wrong or harmful opinions" should be allowed if we support freedom of speech. She then went back on her positions, specifying that she had never called into question the existence of the gas chambers in the death camps of the 3rd Reich and that her remarks about Austria's Nazi past had been taken out of context. She also said that she did not wish to abolish the law on prohibition and condemned anti-Semitism. However she refused to use the word "liberation" of Austria by the allies at the end of the Second World War, explaining that the decade after 1945 had been extremely painful for Austrians. In her programme she promises to reintroduce border controls, stating that Europeans from the eastern part of the Union were contributing to increasing the level of criminality in Austria. She accused the outgoing President, who refused to debate with her on television, of having lost all contact with reality. The director of the outgoing Head of State's campaign, Stefan Bachleitner, indicated that "Barbara Rosenkranz's opinions could not be part of any debates".

Heinz Fischer fears that many votes will be lost during the presidential election due to the absence of any candidate from the ÖVP. The Head of State is campaigning by attempting to combat the disenchantment shown amongst his compatriots towards politics, repeating that "solidarity and performance are not contradicting values in any way".

The Austrian presidential election will be monitored by a group of eleven observers from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), a first in that country. During previous ballots – and particularly during the last general elections held on 28th September 2008 – there was a great deal of criticism regarding the fact that political parties declared only a few weeks prior to the vote the origin of the financial contributions they had received. In Austria, parties (and candidates in the presidential election) are not forced to provide details of the identity of their financial supporters.

A week before the ballot, only a very low turnout could affect the forecast victory of Heinz Fischer in the presidential election. According to the latest opinion polls, the outgoing president should collect about 70% of the vote, with 15% going to Barbara Rosenkranz and 5% to Rudolf Gehring.
Publishing Director: Pascale JOANNIN