The unexpected I

Some of you might know that one of my major interests lie in Austrian politics, giving my background in the Green Party and their youth organisation. That said, I need to comment on the yesterday’s presidential elections.

For those of you not familiar with Austrian politics, here comes a brief explanation of the political system: As a federal republic with its nine Bundesländer (states), Austria is since the country’s independence in 1955 governed by two parties, the social-democrats (SPÖ) and the central-right peoples party (ÖVP). The Austrian federal president is elected every 6 years, having mainly a representative role within the political landscape, but he (there has never been a female president in Austria) also signs laws and is the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces.

Six candidates ran for the election which is now going for its second turn, as none of the candidates received more than 50%.

The presidential elections of April 24th gave a shocking result: Norbert Hofer, the candidate of the far-right, if not extreme-right FPÖ won the election with around 35% of the votes. These elections have been different, in a way that the Republic has not seen before. Alexander van der Bellen from the Greens came second, followed by an independent candidate. Both candidates from SPÖ and ÖVP, the parties being in the government, are far from victory and hold together about 22% of the votes, nothing similar has ever happened in the history of the second republic.

Alexander van der Bellen in 2008 (Photo by Christian Jansky)

What Austria faces today is a completely new situation and a challenge for the entire country. The political system based on two parties has collapsed. The major topic for the elections, the refugee situation in Europe and Austria, has been the victim of this important election. Will Austria be represented by a extreme-right politician who, being anxious about refugees, carries a weapon regularly?

We will see what the second turn brings, it will definitely be very difficult for the green Van der Bellen to catch up with Hofer, considering that many voters from the social-democrats and the people’s party voted for the far-right Hofer. The second turn will be held on the 22nd of May, and Austria will have its new president by then.

I deeply hope that the green candidate will win, not only because he is the best candidate, but also because we need a person standing and fighting against racism and nationalism.

The title of this entry is “the unexpected”. Yesterday, when I at 5pm saw the first results flashing over my screen, I could barely believe what I saw. Once again, there is this feeling of powerlessness, of disbelief. I was as surprised in 2013, when the FPÖ got more than 20% of the national votes, or in 2015, when they got 30% in Vienna. Now, in 2016, their candidate got 35% and leads the elections.

This is dangerous. Austria’s history showed us what nationalism, racism and fascism made to this country. We can not let this happen again. The FPÖ want to get out of the European Union, get rid of migrants and close the borders. Homophobia, antisemitism and islamophobia are common within and around the party.

But was it really unexpected? Is this a European, maybe even international trend of radicalisation? Trump, Le Pen, Wilders, and now Hofer and the FPÖ?

How will the Austrian government react? SPÖ-ÖVP need to rethink and change. The right wing actions from the government concerning the refugee situation (border fence to Slovenia, defined limits of the number of refugees accepted per year) could apparently not convince conservative voters.

What will happen next? Are the rest of the democratic parties from the center-left going to support the green candidate in order to prevent a far-right president who is most likely going to lead Austria into a democratic crisis never seen before?




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