Fischer ‘satisfied’ with first term as election nears

President Heinz Fischer said he was “satisfied” with his first term in office as Austrians head to the polling booths next Sunday (25 April).Fischer is up against the Freedom Party’s (FPÖ) Barbara Rosenkranz and Rudolf Gehring, head of the non-parliament Christians Party (CPÖ) in the upcoming election. He took office in 2004 and decided last year to run for a second term.The 71-year-old former deputy head of the Social Democrats (SPÖ) said in a TV interview yesterday (Sun): “I’m satisfied with my first term.”Asked what he thought about the harsh criticism of his actions by political opponents, he referred to Polish President Lech Kaczynski’s recent death in a airplane accident: “You get praise only when you crash in a plane.”Fischer also appealed to Austrians not to vote invalid or “white”. Several People’s Party (ÖVP) leaders recently revealed they would go to the polling booths in the presidential election but vote for none of the three candidates.Some criticised ÖVP whip Karlheinz Kopf and his colleagues of weakening democracy with their statements.”To vote means to decide. I accept voting ‘white’ as a sign of protest, but I assume most voters will find an option they like [in the presidential election],” Fischer said.All the ÖVP, the Greens and the Alliance for the Future of Austria (BZÖ) decided not to nominate an own candidate. Fischer runs as an independent candidate but has the support of the SPÖ.An important aspect is that parties naming candidates or individuals running for the post are not compensated for their campaign expenses – unlike in provincial and general elections.Analysts said Lower Austrian ÖVP Governor Erwin Pröll had good chances to challenge Fischer in a run-off ballot. But Pröll decided not to run for president after months of speculations he kept going by giving interviews in which he stressed how important it was for the ÖVP to nominate an own candidate.Federal ÖVP boss Josef Pröll – who is Erwin Pröll’s nephew – said the party would not support any of the candidates when he announced the party board’s decision not to nominate an own candidate earlier this year.ÖVP Member of the European Parliament (MEP) Othmar Karas is one of the few leading ÖVP politicians who revealed support for Fischer’s bid for a second term in office.Asked about his goal, Fischer said yesterday he wanted to win an absolute majority in all nine Austrian provinces. The former science minister has been given the potential to garner up to 80 per cent by public opinion researchers.A run-off ballot would be needed if neither of the three candidates wins a majority of votes.The highest percentage of votes ever achieved by a candidate were the 79.9 per cent for then incumbent president Rudolf Kirchschläger in 1980.Fischer garnered 52.4 per cent when he beat the ÖVP’s candidate Benita Ferrero-Waldner in the 2004 election.The president said he hoped for strong support to confirm “people’s disagreement with some unacceptable views”.Fischer referred to the far-right opinions of Rosenkranz whose candidacy sparked the formation of various opposing groups. Tens of thousands of Austrians joined anti-Facebook groups on social online platforms such as Facebook, while a protest march drew around 3,000 people in Vienna earlier this year.Dozens of influential personalities – like Federal Trade Union (ÖGB) chief Erich Foglar, journalist Paul Lendvai and pianist Rudolf Buchbinder – meanwhile joined Fischer’s support committee.Fischer said he planned to speak out more precisely about his points of view in the next six years given he wins the election. His critics accused him of keeping quiet over controversial issues much too often.He also made clear, however, that he did not indent to get involved in political bickering about all kinds of issues.Fischer was also attacked for failing to meet his opponents in a TV debate.Rosenkranz – who faced Gehring in a live TV discussion last night – accused Fischer of “lacking courage”. She claimed he “acted inactively” in his first term.Ultra-conservative Rosenkranz, who heads the Lower Austrian FPÖ department, has around 10 to 15 per cent in polls. Newspapers have claimed FPÖ boss Heinz-Christian Strache already regretted her nomination after her unclear statements regarding Austria’s Nazi past caused public outcry.Columnists said the FPÖ would have benefited from Strache running himself. The right-winger was not given any chances to beat Fischer, but a “respectable” result could have meant massive support for the party in autumn’s Vienna city elections.Some papers said that Strache harmed the campaign of Rosenkranz by claiming she had the potential for 35 per cent, an estimation considered as “totally unrealistic” by analysts.Gehring meanwhile has around five per cent although his party won less than one per cent in the 2008 general elections. His party, the CPÖ, opposes abortion, homosexuality and euthanasia.Gehring said yesterday he was, unlike his rivals, “able to act without being held back by the chains of party mechanisms”, but Rosenkranz accused him of “lacking political experience”.Gehring was harshly criticised by many after calling homosexuality a “wrong track issue”, while his suggestion that the government coalition should say a prayer ahead of all of its meetings made many laugh.