ARE WE EUROPE
ARE WE EUROPE

BLOG

The Story of Austria and All Their Elections

by Antonia Korkas


O tu Felix Austria, it seems as though you enjoy voting – and this on multiple occasions for the exact same election! Oh how happy you must be.

After the result of the presidential election of May 2016 was repealed by the Austrian constitutional court due to irregularities, the repetition of this election (which should have taken place on the 2nd October 2016) has recently been postponed as well. Reason? Irregularities. Again.

But first let me tell you the whole story. 

Austrian voters were called to the polls in April 2016 to vote in the presidential elections. Five candidates put themselves forward in the fight to hold the esteemed office of the Austrian President.

So, the voters, very happily, went to the polling booths, determined to vote for their President.

Given that the Austrian constitution states that the President needs to be elected by more than 50% of the votes, and since none of the candidates achieved this result in the first round, the two candidates with the highest votes entered the second round of the elections. One candidate was Norbert Hofer, part of the right populist party FPÖ; the other candidate was Alexander Van der Bellen, former leader of the Green party (Die Grünen).

So, the voters, still happily, returned to the polling booths, determined to vote for their President.

Van der Bellen came out as the winner in this election, with a margin of 31,000 votes. This was the closest election result in a presidential election in Austria’s history.
 

Source: Flickr - Nora K

Source: Flickr - Nora K

Both candidates acknowledged the result and the chapter of the 2016 Austrian Presidential elections seemed to have closed. Everything went back to normal.

But, this was by no means the end! Incidents were mentioned again:

  • votes were opened too early
  • people under the legal voting age were able to vote

then

  • the Freedom Party Österreich decided to go to the constitutional court and refute the results
  • this was approved
  • and it was decided that there would be a rerun of the whole elections
  • the constitutional court told everyone:
“elections in a democratic country such as Austria need to be conducted in a ‘fair and democratic’ manner and the appeal is therefore accepted”

So, the voters, no longer quite so happy, found themselves in the midst of another election campaign.

The second-second round of the election was held on the 2nd  of October.
As an Austrian living outside of my country, I
of course demanded my proxy vote and was once again determined to vote (for my President). But, believe it or not, the repetition of the repetition was announced. Reason? Irregularities, of course.

This time, the glue of the envelopes for the proxy votes did not stick properly and therefore, the votes would have been deemed invalid. – Haha.

The situation that the Austrian Republic is now confronted with leads many Austrians to ask the following two questions:

1) How?

2) How often have irregularities during any kind of Austrian election at different institutional levels already taken place?

Being Austrian and knowing the people’s attitude and thoughts, it actually does not surprise me that ‘irregularities’ were the reason for the elections’ failures.
 

Source: Flickr - Bud Hirsch

Source: Flickr - Bud Hirsch

When one makes the (terrible) mistake of assuming that Austrians are the same as Germans, the first thing I must take issue with is that we are much more ‘chill’ and down to earth. Until recently, I always appreciated this calmness among the people, but this attitude is the exact reason for the elections having been invalidated. People are so chill that they don’t properly follow the rules and, in the case of the election, even the very rules put in our own constitution! They assume that opening the vote one hour before the legal opening time would not make any difference. But it did.

I am deeply upset that in a ‘democratic’ country like Austria, it seems impossible to organize orderly elections; however, I think that the recent shambles can be seen as an opportunity for Austria’s democracy. People are now much more aware of legal limitations and have become more politically aware.

At the same time, however, the cancellations clearly show that the ‘system put in place’ - for example the current government - does not work properly; this leads many people towards alternative solutions.

As in many European countries, more and more people in Austria today lean towards the right, since the FPÖ is perceived as the only party able to combat ‘the system’.

The (hopefully) final election for the position of President will now take place on December 4th and according to current polls, it seems that FPÖ candidate Norbert Hofer will win this time. This would mean that Austria would get a right-wing populist president, and this is the exact opposite of what I want for my oh so beloved Alpine Republic. 

Source: Wikimedia Commons - Austrian Parliament

Source: Wikimedia Commons - Austrian Parliament

Source photo top of page: Flickr - The Apex Archive