Austria faces its 8th presidential election by popular vote this April. For all people who are (quite understandably) not so versed in the Austrian political system: the President of Austria could be compared to an electable Queen. His main functions include meeting foreign dignitaries, signing legal documents, formally opening just about anything from hospitals to bridges and putting everyone to sleep with his infamous New Year addresses. Of course he also swears in the Austrian government and is the commander in chief of the Austrian armed forces, which has up until now proven quite irrelevant considering that we are a neutral country surrounded by allies. Despite its irrelevance the Austrian parliament still has decided that the position should pay more than either the presidency of the United States or Russia: currently a staggering 24033€ times 14 a year.
However, even positions of such supreme importance have to be filled and the Austrian electorate (just to remind everyone: 16 years and upwards) has to decide from a pool of brightest and most brilliant Austria has to offer:
The Socialist Party Austria (SPÖ) has nominated Rudolf Hundstorfer, age 65, the former Minister for Work, Social Affairs and Consumer Protection (I didn’t even know we had one), whose proud record includes justifying his signature in taking over 1.53 billion € in accounts payable of a bank by the Austrian trade union federation by saying “I didn’t know what I was signing”.
Their coalition partner in government, the Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP), nominated 75 years old Andreas Khol who considers the adjective “archconservative” a compliment and supports writing a preamble to the Austrian constitution expressing the Austrian government’s responsibility towards God. Although his record includes being the President of the Austrian National Assembly between 2002 and 2006, his nomination came as a surprise to many and caused muffled ridicule at his current position as head of the ÖVP-senior citizen’s association.
However, leading in the first polls is the chain-smoking University professor and former head of the Green Party 72-year-old Alexander Van der Bellen who is famous for his calm manner of speaking and homely-ness in general. He has already caused furore by stating in off-hand remarks that he would not be willing to swear in an FPÖ-led government even if they received the most votes at a general election.
The right-wing Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ) were the last of the major parties to throw a hat into the ring: Norbert Hofer at 45 a real youngster and current 3rd president of the national assembly, an invalid since a paragliding incident in 2003, appears more moderate than his party’s official line, while allegedly pushing ever farther to the right behind closed doors.
In addition to the candidates backed by a party, there are two more notable figures vying for the public’s attention and they could not be any more different from each other.
Irmgard Griss is the 70-year-old Harvard-educated former President of both the Austrian Supreme Court and the network of Supreme Court presidents of the EU. She is a mother-of-two who has focused her whole career about one thing: upholding the Austrian constitution.
The last candidate is Richard Lugner, 84, a multi-millionaire from the construction business, owner of one of the largest Viennese shopping centres, stars in several reality-TV series and has been married five times. He is the only candidate who has actually run for president before: in 1998 when he reached astounding 9.9 percent of the votes cast and says he will invite future President of the US Hillary Clinton to the Vienna Opernball after he has won the election.
Considering the elite and diverse field of candidates, it is only left to say: may the best woman take the most overpaid political job in Europe.
By Vince Scharner