Interest in politics hits all-time low

Fewer Austrians than ever before are interested in politics, according to a poll.

Research group Imas said yesterday (Weds) only five per cent of citizens explained they were “strongly interested” in developments in interior politics. Around three in four admitted being indifferent or uninterested.

Imas explained the percentage figure of those very interested has never been lower. It reached a record high in 2000 when the People’s Party (ÖVP) controversially formed a coalition with the right-wing Freedom Party (FPÖ). The partnership was established despite ÖVP boss Wolfgang Schüssel’s pledge to go into opposition if his party dropped from second to third place in the ballot.

The European Union (EU) reacted to the partnership between the ÖVP and the right-wing faction – which is headed by Heinz-Christian Strache since 2005 – by issuing diplomatic and political sanctions against Austria. The decision infuriated conservative newspapers while tens of thousands of Austrians took to the streets to demonstrate against the government coalition.

Imas explained yesterday men and well educated Austrians generally showed more interest in what happened in day to day interior politics in the country at the moment than women and people who left school early. The agency revealed that the number of people able to identify Social Democrat (SPÖ) Werner Faymann as chancellor of the country and the leader of the province they lived in was waning.

News broadcasts seem to confirm analysts’ predictions of a worsening of Austrian politics’ reputation due to various corruption scandals former and incumbent lawmakers may be involved in. An anti-corruption prosecution unit was recently established to take some pressure off state prosecutors who have been investigating numerous high-profile cases in past years. The examined issues range from alleged slush money payments to former federal ministers to excessive payments of provisions to lobbyists close to decision-makers.

The pressure is on both government and opposition politicians as a string of former representatives of ÖVP, FPÖ and the Alliance for the Future of Austria (BZÖ) could be prosecuted for abuse of office and corruption for their alleged involvement in illicit operations by Telekom Austria (TA) and other companies close to the state.

The BZÖ formed a federal government coalition with the ÖVP between 2005 and 2007. It was founded by late FPÖ boss Jörg Haider. Josef Bucher, who heads the BZÖ today, stressed none of the accused politicians and businesspeople were members of his party anymore. He explained the BZÖ provided prosecutors with all available information and data on deals done by BZÖ officials before he took over as chairman.

Ex-TA managers reportedly cooperated with armament industry lobbyist Alfons Mensdorff-Pouilly in receiving assignments and making acquisitions. Mensdorff-Pouilly, who is married to ex-ÖVP Minister for Women Maria Rauch-Kallat – may have received more than one million Euros for his engagement with US American telecommunications company Motorola. Top-tier businessmen and politicians attended hunting trips organised by the Burgenland-based lobbyist. He charged TA almost 170,000 Euros for the outings, according to magazine profil.

ÖVP whip Karlheinz Kopf and other representatives of the party – which currently struggles in polls – lashed out at Greens MP Peter Pilz and other opposition politicians for “trying to link the ÖVP with possibly corrupt actions at TA.” Kopf warned of prejudgments, adding that the results of prosecutors’ examinations must matter. Referring to the various accusations brought forward by Pilz, Kopf spoke of a “disgrace.” ÖVP Finance Minister Maria Fekter claimed in a parliamentary debate on Tuesday what Pilz was doing was “unworthy of parliament.”