Saturday, January 12, 2008

Politics in Graz

With the looming US election at hand, I find myself rather disenfranchised by the selection of candidates and further disenfranchised by the fact that, in general, absentee ballots go uncounted. Since it appears that we will be in Austria, I am turning my interest to local politics. The Graz mayoral election is on January 20th and there are a lot of issues to familiarize myself with between now and then.

The main thing we’re voting for (indirectly via parliamentary process) is who should be the next Bürgermeister (Mayor, or literally citizen master). Here is a helpful graphic that I made to show where everyone is on the political spectrum from left to right.

There are six major parties here (for varying degrees of the notion or “major”). Generally speaking, the moderates are more popular. On the furthest left, we have the Kommunistische Partei Österreichs (KPÖ), who are, as even those you who don’t speak German can intuit, the commies. I bit to the right of them, are the only non-TLA (three letter acronym) party, die Grüne who are the green party here. Towards the center are the Sozialdemokratische Partei Österreichs (SPÖ) who are the the “socialists” and most closely aligned with the US notion of liberal democrats. The Österreichische Volkspartei (ÖVP) are the traditionalist conservative party. By traditional, I mean family values and all that but also generalized good will. To their right are the Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs (FPÖ) who are more of the xenophobic fear-mongering sort of conservative. Finally, not necessarily more conservative, but more openly nuts is the Bündnis Zukunft Österreich (BZÖ), headed by the former governor of Carinthia, Jörg Haider, who broke away from the FPÖ a few years back. Haider has a certain amount of infamy even outside of Austria.

Here is a graph of the relative representation of the parties from the last (2003) election.

GemeinderrätInnen means council members. The capital I denotes that this refers to both genders.

Campaign Platforms

The KPÖ is actually a bit of a fringe group in Austria overall, getting only about 1% of the votes on average, although they get around 6+% or so in Styria, our provence and a solid 20+% in Graz . The basic platform of the KPÖ is focussed, unsurprisingly, heavily on low income people. They support public housing. They are in many respects anti-EU and claim that the adoption of the Euro has made things more expensive for poor people. They are proposing some sort of “social pass” for low income folks to get breaks on all manner of things such as free public transportation, discounted utilities, price control on foods and so on. These are probably pretty shocking ideas to the most Americans, but some of this stuff is already going on here and it is not actually as traumatic as it might seem.

The Grüne, of course, are principally concerned with environmental issues. A big item this election is Feinstaub (toxic particulate matter in the environment) although as near as I can tell, all candidates are saying that something must be done about it. They are in favor of extending our already enviable bike route network in and out of town. I’m still trying to understand their specifics because I am too lazy to wade through their 70 page manifesto.

The FPÖ is the original far-right party here. I won’t candy-coat it, lots of people in this party and its spin-off the BZÖ are actually children of Nazis. The main intents of the FPÖ is to fight against the “Islamification” of Europe. For example they propose forbidding the construction of mosques, banning headscarves in public schools, universities, and for public employees. The also want to ban any manner of begging/panhandling. They suggest increasing security by adding more more police, police dogs, emergency phone posts, maintaining a “criminal atlas” which I guess would be like a generalization of the US sex-offender maps. Reading the security proposals in their PDF seems like they are waving their arms and saying “OooOoOO” in a scary voice. It’s pretty laughable to me given how low the crime rates are here compared to Albuquerque.

The FPÖ proposes free transportation for all you (presumably Aryan) people up to the age of 27, guaranteed free University education to all, free and compulsory preschool, special educational elite training for science types.

On the health front, they are proposing mobile healthcare vehicles and “health houses” in every district. On transportation they seem mostly concerned with improving parking and building more roads in and out of town to help commuters.

The BZÖ is actually not that different from the FPÖ except that it is a different set of egos with the same basic agenda. I expect that the traditional small percentage of vote that the FPÖ normally garners will just be subdivided between the two parties. Some the points on which they differ from the FPÖ is that the support a minimum wage, flat tax, abolition of inheritance tax, tax breaks for childcare and the re-nationalization of agriculture.

The ÖVP is currently the party with the most power and as such, their guy Siegfried Nagl gets to be mayor. They may be the sensible right-wing party, but they are still fairly progressive by US standards. They intend on extending the public transportation system fairly extensively. They also intend to provide free wireless internet access in all public places and buildings. In fact my only significant beef with the ÖVP is that they are catholic and push pro-catholic agenda. The separation between church and state is less pronounced here than in the US. The prime example of this is that churches tax the populace, unless you have registered as an atheist or agnostic, which, of course, incurs a fair amount of eye-white.

The SPÖ are the second most represented party here and are overall pretty progressive but not as radical as the greens or communists. Their major points are transportation, education, and creating jobs. I have to say, they are probably my choice at the moment if just for their transportation proposals. They want to increase the amount of pedestrian streets in town, extend the public transportation system, and adopt a free loan public bicycle system like is already in place in some other parts of Europe.

Political Ads

Here is a sampling of political ads from the different parties. I’m going to start our with the tame ones first.

Although the best ÖVP ads are out on the street an not online, our current mayor has a running theme where he is photographed with various symbolic objects. He is Photoshopped next to a gear to indicate progress, a pacifier to indicate family, a poisonous mushroom to indicate good luck (don’t ask), a police car light for security and so on. Here he is with a cup of coffee. It illustrates what I find funny about the ads. Apparently he is very small. The ÖVP and SPÖ are the only parties that don’t seem to run attack ads.

The SPÖ ads, on the other hand mostly focus on the fact that Walter Ferk is unbelievably friendly looking.

The website contains a lengthy video of him being friendly by giving flowers to old ladies and candy to bus drivers all set to a catchy electropop score.

The KPÖ ads are surprisingly tame. Here is one that says “Help instead of talk.”

They do, however, sell party merchandise with pot leaves and likenesses of Che Guevera.

This FPÖ ad is one of the more provocative and thus interesting.

She has a lot of billboards which follow the basic theme of culturally insensitive rhyming couplets with her looking smug in front of the clock tower. In this one, it literally says “blue courage instead on a flood of immigrants.” At the bottom is her tagline “She hits the nail on the head.” This is a pun, because she replaces the normal word for nail (Nagel) with Nagl, which refers to current mayor Siegfried Nagl, so we are given to understand that she’s actually hitting him on the head. LOL? One of her other slogans translates to “building mosques is no fun.”

To steal a line from Red Dwarf, this political ad made by the green party is “almost Swiftian in its rapier-like subtlety.”

Here we see a topiaried Hitler moustache indicating what a bunch of Nazis the BZÖ are. There is very similar one against the FPÖ, but it is clearly
a woman’s face. I kind of like the fact that it looks like someone is snorting an umlaut.

Here’s the Grand Poobah of tasteful political ads.

This is from a pro BZÖ group called, I kid you not, The Orange Panthers. Never has neofascism been so wacky and fun! It appeals to young people with sex and shocked nuns. Anyway, it says “We would give our last shirt for Graz.” Most of the other ads for the BZÖ candidate show him posing with a broom (with which he’ll sweep all of the brown people out of town) or of him and Jörg Haider giving eachother butt-pats. Another thing on the BZÖ site which made me laugh is that all of the candidates list their zodiac signs as well as their favorite meal and drink.

Ok, this is not quite an ad per se, but I did find it very amusing that every party’s website has a picture like this:

Hope your elections are also interesting!


Rufus said...

I would like to have a tee-shirt that says, "Walter Ferk is unbelievably friendly looking."

Holly said...

Greg - This is a great write up! The only thing missing are the mysterious 1% Independent folks. Because when the council only has 65 members, 1% shouldn't even get you a seat. Since the independents don't seem to be advertising anywhere, how did they ever get any votes? It's all very mysterious. Now, do the immigrant council! ;)

Rufus - You can probably have one. Also, he'll come to your house and wash it for you, and fold it, and put it away, too. He's *that* friendly.

gregvw said...

"Wähl Walter Ferk! Er sieht unglaublich freundlich aus."

Yea, I could see that on a T-shirt.

Rufus said...

If we ever sell tee-shirts here, we can begin with the Walter Ferk line.

Rufus said...

Also I'd say that nun has a very good reason to be shocked by the giant topless woman pursuing her. Actually, it kind of looks like she's being picked up by the giant torso, possibly to be used as a back-scratcher. I'm still very confused as to how this will work as a campaign strategy.

gregvw said...

In follow-uo, here in today's Der Standard is an article about the FPÖ, where their candidate calls Mohammed a child molester.


Rufus said...

Yeah, "Muhammad was a child molester" seems to be a popular meme on the Internet as well.

TomasV said...

Looks like it could have been an interesting election.

Again, it seems as I would vote for ÖVP if I lived in Austria (although I am much more liberal than they are).

Greetings from the Czech Republic :)