The following article from The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung takes a look at the ramifications of the first round of the Austrian presidential election, which is headed into a run-off.
Many thanks to JLH for the translation:
Rightist, But Not Extremist
by Stephan Löwenstein
April 26, 2016
The FPÖ [Austrian Freedom Party], with its anti-immigration motto “Austria First” and its presidential candidate, has gained favor among the people. Anyway, the charge of populism also applies to the ruling parties SPÖ [Socialist Party of Austria] and ÖVP [Austrian People’s Party].
The first round of the presidential election in Austria was characterized by the dramatic defeat of the ruling parties, the SPÖ and the ÖVP, by two strong candidates running on party autonomy, and by the striking success of the candidate for the rightist FPÖ, Norbert Hofer.
The traditional political camps were plowed under; the new political diversity had an invigorating effect on the campaign. Citizens took part in far greater numbers than before. The second round of voting will be different. Polarization is in the nature of a run-off. The two remaining candidates — Norbert Hofer of the FPÖ and Alexander Van der Bellen of the Greens — will try to form a new group of followers around themselves, at least for this time. Hofer’s banner reads “Austria First” and Van der Bellen’s is “All Democrats”.
Democracy — To Be or Not to Be
Concerned voices at home and abroad, demonstrations “against rightism” and certainly an intensification of reporting strengthen the impression that this is a question of life and death of democracy in Austria.
But is that the case? The first thing that can be determined is that the map after this first round has turned very blue — that is the color of the FPÖ. And yet their candidate has thus far only managed to unite a third of the voters behind himself. And in doing so, thoroughly exhausted the “blue” voter potential. It is still a long way to an absolute majority, and the last meters will be the hardest,
Actually, that is most true for Van der Bellen. First, he must win over all those who do not like the FPÖ. Despite his ‘independent” candidature, the long-time chair of the Greens is not unknown, and will have a harder time than would former judge Irmgard Griss, if she had not ended up behind Van der Bellen. The cards are being shuffled anew. Both players are beginning again.
The other question is how to classify the FPÖ. In the political spectrum, if the right/left spectrum is considered, it is to the right, It emphasizes nationalism, criticizes European integration and opposes immigration. But it is not extreme rightist.
Its program does not include the overthrow of democracy nor does it make any efforts in that direction, whether it is in or outside of the government. In the European parliament, it cooperates with parties like Marine Le Pen’s Front National, the Belgian Vlaams Belang, the Dutch Freedom Party PVV and the Italian Lega Nord.
These parties are often characterized as right-populist. In the case of the FPÖ, this is not wrong, but also not quite correct. The fact that its slogans are well-liked among the people (populus), shows Hofer’s appeal to his voters. For most of them, the most important theme was: “He understand the concerns of people like us.” But the concept of populism brings with it the reproach that the party makes promises to the people that are impossible to keep or are harmful to the community.
This reproach also applies to parties like the SPÖ (socialist state populism) or the ÖVP (interest group populism). The “Nazi club” should be put away and, as with any other party, its specific political opinions and actions examined critically.
There would be enough fault to find, from denigration of immigrants already in the country, to utopian promises which equal those of the SPÖ.
Many leaders in the FPÖ, including the party head Heinz-Christian Strache and the presidential candidate Hofer, belong to fraternities that have a German, nationalist tradition. That is no coincidence. The FPÖ has historically been a gathering point for this group.
There are also some discordant notes coming from Austrian fraternities, which the FPÖ grandees should confront more clearly than they have. But German nationalism (pictures are used of Hofer with black-red-gold fraternity accessories) is folklore. No one is seriously thinking of an “Anschluss” anymore.
Light Chains and Attempts to Isolate
Though not a few old Nazis made a career inn the FPÖ after the War, that did not prevent the Kreisky-era SPÖ from forming a coalition with them. Then, when Wolfgang Schüssel of the ÖVP did the same with the glittering Jörg Haider, the party was over. There were light-chain demonstrations and attempts at isolation.
The black-blue government had its lights and shadows, but democracy and human rights did not suffer. The measure that should be applied to the FPÖ now is whether you can expect good or bad policy, statesmen or supine party hacks — whether it is now with the decision on federal president, or later when it is about the government.
|1.||Term used to describe Hitler’s annexation (or “merger”) of Austria.|
|2.||The threats and efforts to isolate Austria diplomatically in reaction to its electing a “blue-black” government included all or most of Western Europe and eventually the USA.