The Presidential Suite – Part 2

A modern day Austrian presidential election bears many of the hallmarks of advanced, western, democratic attitudes towards the selection of leaders: low(ish) turnout, general indifference and, what my late grandmother would have called, “some right old Charlies”.

In the context of the Austrian presidential election, this is almost certainly down to the perception that the position of president is at best a figurehead without power. But as we have learned in part 1, this would be a critical under-estimation of the essential position of head of state in that the president can play a pivotal role in the establishment of the government. Namely as arse-kicker-in-chief (the Socratic term) when the political parties are engaged in the time honoured post-election ritual of getting into bed with each other (unless there is an outright winner and temporary master of the boudoir).

Having said that, the race to the Hofburg every six years sometimes usually feels no more than a distraction. Appearing as it does as a political sideshow (this may change if we get a run-off vote) containing all the gravitas of a distorted version of the Miss World pageant for the over 70s. More so this year with the arrival of the Kasperl and his Katzi (Richard Lugner and his German wife) who is using the election, spending half a million Euro in the process, for self-promotion of brand-Lugner. As a Der Standard (liberal newspaper) opinion piece headlined at the time: “Bring on the Clowns”. Thus summing up in a few tragic words, how the process, quite civilised until that point, had suddenly descended into a circus (and you know how much I like circuses).

But what of the main candidates? Well, there are five men and one woman. The average age is over 70 although the candidate for FPÖ is in his middle 40s and must be thinking what the hell he has done wrong in parliament to warrant nomination at this stage in his career. Four are ex-politicians, one a judge and the other a famous builder and crap shopping centre owner. All the main political parties are covered (Social Democrats, Conservatives, Greens, Freedom Party) and two independents.

I would like to stand, of course, unifying non-native speaking German speakers with my incisive vision for a better Austria and Europe, a vision based on truly secular and pluralistic lines. With the abolition of multi-culturalism in favour of a social existence built on equality, trust and being quiet. And when I do my three main election priorities will be:

  1. War on dog owners with persistent offenders sent to hard labour re-conditioning camps where camp personnel will be exclusively drawn from the splendid organisational ranks of CAK (Cats are King).
  2. Tougher sentences for anyone caught discarding a can of Red Bull or Clever energy drink, more so if left anywhere by the side of a road, in a bush or near a school.
  3. Public admonition for any parent which allows their pre-school child to play with parent’s smartphone on a packed, early morning bus, and then ignoring them as the phone emits a continuous cacophony of synthesised toddler pop or agonizing sound effects. Sanctions will be ramped up if child is sucking on a dummy.

But I don’t have half a million Euros and, strangely, the thousand signatures the constitution requires of me for acceptance into the race. So instead, here are the best of the rest:

The Red Candidate – Rudolf Hundstorfer (SPÖ)

In a course I teach – about speaking – I tell participants that even the most bland of subjects can be made interesting by a little thought, a few rhetorical tricks and some carefully positioned self-deprecation. But looking into Rudolf Hundstorfer, I have changed my mind. The best I can do is tell you he is a career civil servant, union boss, and between 2008 and 2016 he was the Minister for Work, Social Policy and Consumer Protection. You are probably better off watching his video on YouTube, although given that I like all my readers, maybe you shouldn’t.

The Black Candidate – Andreas Kohl (ÖVP)

Foto: Clemens Fabry
Foto: Clemens Fabry

Andreas Kohl is a German by birth but this no time for instinctive prejudice. He became an Austrian as a boy (all true Germans secretly aspire to such a switch) and grew up in Tirol. A lawyer by trade he is one of the old grandees of the Conservative Party in Austria and still exercises considerable influence (a reason why the ÖVP is going down the Klo). He has cross-party appeal given his experience and intimate knowledge of the menu of Café Landtmann, but is seen by many as a relic of the past (he is 74), an arch conservative and tainted by religion (he is a staunch Catholic). If such a thing as the establishment existed in Austria, he would be it. In fairness, however, he is a champion of pensioner rights. As one himself, this news is shocking. Interesting fact: one of his many children is a male model.

The Blue Candidate – Norbert Hofer (FPÖ)


The FPÖ nominee is the face of youth in this presidential election (most of the other candidates could be his father). Given that every youth I have spoken to in the last few weeks is more interested in Germany’s Next Top Model rather than Austria’s Next Top Politician, this may not work to his advantage. (Note to my editor: perhaps the election campaign should be reconfigured like GNTM with one nominee being voted off each week. It would certainly energise the whole process particularly if there was a swimwear round.)

Norbert grew up in deepest Burgenland in the village of Pinkafeld famous as the “Europes Most Beautiful Town” in 2002. An engineer by training, he has been involved in local politics since the middle 1990’s and in parliament since 2001. Given the surge in support of the FPÖ in recent years, he has a good chance of bagging the throne, sorry state owned former imperial office chair, in the Hofburg which would make it very interesting in the next national election if his party grab the most votes.

The Green Candidate – Alexander Van der Bellen (Green)

Alexander van der Bellen Foto: Clemens Fabry
Foto: Clemens Fabry

Alexander Van Halen is an economics professor and former head of the Green Party in Austria. He is well-respected, broadly popular and oft lauded for his even temperament. But as head of the Greens he stepped down in 2008 when it became clear he could never persuade more than 10% of Austrians to give up their cars and become vegan. I am not sure what he has been doing since but chain smoking Van the Man is the marginal
front-runner this time round. Nevertheless, caused a bit of a furore when he announced his candidacy by saying if elected, he would not invite the Freedom Party (FPÖ) to form a government. Rather unsporting, I agree.

The Independent – Irmgard Griss

ABD0057_20141202 - WIEN - …STERREICH: ZU APA0168 VOM 2.12.2014 - Die ehemalige OGH-PrŠsidentin Irmgard Griss am Dienstag, 2. Dezember 2014, anlŠsslich der Pressekonferenz "Hypo-Untersuchungskommission stellt Bericht vor" in Wien. - FOTO: APA/HELMUT FOHRINGER

Relief from the Old Boys’ Networks of established politics is provided by the presence of Irmgard Griss. Famous as the chief of the Griss Commission which looked into the fiasco that was the HYPO banking scandal. The findings of which, published at the end of 2014, made the sensational discovery that mangers, politicians, regulators and national bankers were a bit rubbish. Would probably make the best president from all of the candidates (all presidents should be women) but with no public profile to speak of, she has about as much chance as Donald Trump being asked to marry the daughter of a Mexican President.

The Clown – Richard Lugner


Much has been written about the entry of Lugner in this year’s race for the Hofburg which was always his plan. Shamelessly self-promoting (every year he tries to hijack the Opera Ball with his “star” guest and for years there was his reality show “The Lugners”) his fame is undisputed. Yet like in 1998 when he last ran, his chances are slim although given the state of the world at the moment, anything is possible. Once a millionaire builder he continues to plug his decidedly naff Lugner City (a shopping centre in Vienna’s 15th district) which probably explains his willingness once again, even at the age of 83, to hit the campaign trail. His politics are unclear but will presumably include references to being outside the political elite, a straight talker, and a man of the people. Coded references meaning I have made a lot of money and somehow this qualifies me for high political office.

Off with their heads!


© RJ Barratt 2016