Presidential elections in Austria

Austrian Institute for International Affairs.

Hakan Akbulut

In the reporting period, the presidential elections of 25 April 2010 were the major issue dominating domestic politics and related debate. Apart from the incumbent, Heinz Fischer, a Social Democrat running as an independent candidate, Barbara Rosenkranz from the Freedom Party and Rudolf Gehring from a small party called the Christian Party of Austria (CPÖ) ran for the office. However, given Heinz Fischer’s popularity, combined with the ideological affiliation and comparatively unglamorous careers of his challengers, there existed no doubts that Fischer was going to win. Thus, the election campaign lacked any excitement. Nevertheless, the personality of Barbara Rosenkranz and the general attitude adopted by the People’s Party during the election campaign caused some controversies.
 
The candidate of the far-right Freedom Party, Barbara Rosenkranz, was to put the prohibition law banning Nazi ideology and penalising any attempt to glorify or play down Nazi crimes in question.[1] This prompted severe criticism and her eligibility for the office of the president was challenged. Moreover, the publisher of Austria’s best-selling tabloid Neue Kronen Zeitung, Hans Dichand, who had previously announced his support for Rosenkranz, now demanded that she should publicly denounce National Socialism. Upon this, Rosenkranz signed an affidavit saying she condemned Nazi crimes and ideology. In the end, Rosenkranz only got about 15 percent of the vote.

As for the People’s Party, given the aforementioned popularity of Heinz Fischer and the prospect of him being re-elected in the end, the ÖVP did not nominate a candidate. At the same time, despite the controversies surrounding Rosenkranz, People’s Party officials refrained from endorsing the candidacy of Heinz Fischer, who is a former Social Democratic Parliament Speaker and Minister. Instead, prominent ÖVP politicians such as the leader of the parliamentary group, Karlheinz Kopf, openly declared that they would participate in the elections but only submit a blank ballot.[2] This was, of course, severely criticised by the Social Democratic Party.

The controversies surrounding the personality of Barbara Rosenkranz, the stance adopted by the People’s Party and the expectation that Heinz Fischer would be re-elected anyway all added to discussions on the rationale behind the office of the president and contributed to a very low voter turnout (54 percent). Heinz Fischer and Barbara Rosenkranz respectively won 79.33 percent and 15.24 percent of the vote, while Rudolf Gehring captured 5.43 percent.

Apart from the issues raised in the questionnaire and the abovementioned presidential elections, the disruptions in the air traffic caused by the eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull Volcano in Iceland, as well as the explosion of an offshore oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico causing the spilling of millions of tons of oil into the sea were also very salient in the reporting period.


[1] Der Standard, 3 March 2010; AustrianTimes.at: Rosenkranz ‘condemns Nazi crimes’, 8 March 2010, available at: http://www.austriantimes.at/news/General_News/2010-03-08/21366/Rosenkranz_%27condemns_Nazi_crimes%27 (last access: 22 May 2010).

[2] Der Standard, 29 March 2010.

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