Austria is entering an electoral campaign - once again.
In the beginning of October, Austria is electing a new president - yet again. After the election from spring 2016 has been ruled unconstitutional due to irregularities during the counting of the votes, Austrians are back to square one, ready to relive a polarising campaign. Over the last week, posters have popped up all over Vienna, promoting either right wing FPÖ’s candidate Norbert Hofer or the Green Party’s candidate Alexander van der Bellen.
In tune with the current political climate in the country, both candidates focus on similar issues in their campaigns. The countries security as well as it’s role in the international community are hot topics. Hofer has chosen the slogans ‘Macht braucht Kontrolle’ (Power needs control) and ‘Österreich braucht Sicherheit’ (Austria needs security), highlighting his promise to disallow refugees from entering the country in large numbers and distancing himself from EU policies. Furthermore, he focuses on his ‘Austria first’ policy for the labor market and the ‘Austrians’ right to a homeland.
Van der Bellen campaigns with ‘Mehr denn je.’ (More than ever) and concentrates on Austria’s role within the international community as well as the diversity within Austrians. He has also announced to focus his campaign to rural areas specifically, after not being as popular there in the first elections.
During the first attempt at the elections, Austria was divided by a highly polarizing political discourse, mostly centered on immigration laws and national identity. After the surprising results of the first election round, which eliminated the traditional big parties’ candidates in favour of Hofer and van der Bellen, the build-up to the final vote was large. Another similar escalation is to be expected, especially since feelings of betrayal in regards to the overturned election results have been running high on both sides. And there is much at stake: The election result will determine Austria’s outlook on its identity and its global position for years to come.
What is quite poignant in this campaign is the use of the idea of the homeland as a central focus point in the imagery of both sides. Austrian red and white dominate the posters and the typical mountain-and-field scenarios reinforce the traditional image of Austria. Both candidates are trying to rope in the voters by appealing to emotional factors, feelings of belonging and community as well as their personal identity as an Austrian. It really is framed to be all about setting the country on the right course in these turbulent and insecure times and after October 2, we will see in which direction Austria is headed.