The Austrian Presidential elections used to be a dull affair. Not anymore.
The Austrian Presidential elections used to be a dull affair, with candidates of the two main parties SPÖ and ÖVP sparring with each other over issues they didn’t have the power to change anyway and the electorate languidly casting their votes. Not anymore.
On April 24, Austrians may well take the first step towards electing a president from outside the tightly knit SPÖ/ÖVP spheres of influence. What is more, this time the elections may well be fought over issues as much as over personalities.
The governing parties’ candidates, Social-Democrat Rudolf Hundstorfer and Christian-Democrat Andreas Khol, still count on the wide reach of their party machinery. However, it is independents like Irmgard Griss, a Harvard-educated former supreme court judge, and Alexander Van der Bellen, the erstwhile party chairman of the Greens, who are leading the polls. Add to this the right-wing populist Norbert Hofer, also polling strongly in a contested field, and property developer and oddball celebrity Richard Lugner, and you get an exciting race. A runoff in May is all but certain.
One of the main issues of the elections will be how to handle the refugee crisis and the country’s relationship with the EU. The candidates’ starkly differing views promise tense debates. Moreover, Van der Bellen’s vow not to appoint Heinz-Christian Strache chancellor – even if his party, the far right FPÖ, were to finish first in the general elections – is an unusually clear commitment. For once, Austria’s choice of president may have real political implications.