Six out of seven take the 100,000 hurdle

The referendum against the transport of live animals initiated by the Lower Austrian FPÖ provincial councilor Gottfried Waldhäusl gathered 426,938 supporters. The interior ministry announced that 307,629 Austrians signed the anti-corruption petition launched in response to the “Ibiza” sub-committee, or 4.84 percent of the 6,361,479 eligible voters.

There were almost the same number of signatures for two similar requests directed against the (meanwhile suspended) CoV vaccination obligation: “NO to vaccination obligation”, represented by Robert Marschall, came to 246,878 supporters or 3.88 percent in the preliminary result, “Vocation obligation vote : NO respect!” (Werner Bolek) to 246,476 or 3.87 percent.

Basic income and “youth referendums”

The initiative for an “unconditional basic income” was approved 168,981 times (2.66 percent). The “Mental Health Youth People’s Request” carried out by a group around Carina Reithmaier, the chairwoman of the ÖVP-affiliated student union, collected 138,131 signatures (2.17 percent).

The only one that remained under the 100,000 hurdle was the request “Unemployment benefit RAUF!” launched by an alliance of works councils, NGOs, social scientists and artists. 86,217 or 1.36 percent are not enough for the right to be dealt with in Parliament.

Anti-corruption referendum: parties were silent

It is striking that the parliamentary parties – with the exception of NEOS – were practically silent on the anti-corruption referendum during the registration week. And this at a time when domestic politics consists largely of corruption scandals and affairs. The political scientist Peter Filzmaier saw this as a historical, but above all a tactical reason for ORF.at.

NEOS banged the drum with a press conference last week, and there were two broadcasts from the SPÖ. That was essentially it at the federal level. Filzmaier said Austria historically had a “messed up relationship” with direct democracy.

After seven years of National Socialist indoctrination in 1945, when the republic was re-established, that was not surprising, it was very understandable. The Allies were correspondingly skeptical and strong direct-democratic elements at least hindered the negotiations for the state treaty.

Time for reform “missed”

But then the time for a reform was “missed”, according to Filzmaier – for the simple reason that parties were always only interested in more direct democracy in opposition, but not when they were or are in power.

In 2017 the ÖVP and FPÖ campaigned for more direct democracy – but in the joint government program the hurdle for mandatory implementation was drastically raised to 900,000 signatures and implementation was postponed to the end of the legislative period, which, as is well known, was not achieved because of “Ibiza”. And in the government program of the ÖVP and the Greens, that doesn’t appear at all, according to Filzmaier.

“Not surprising”

In view of the numerous acute scandals – from the “Ibiza” aftermath to the ÖVP advertisement affair in the federal government to that in Vorarlberg and others – the parties are not clearly positioning themselves for stronger anti-corruption measures by offensively supporting the referendum is for Filzmaier therefore not surprising.

It is perhaps surprising at most in the case of NEOS: in the sense that the party did not use it more to position itself as the political force that exposes and fights corruption. All the more so since the Greens, as the governing party, are now significantly less emphasizing this core competence, which is next to environmental protection.

“Explosive power for the coalition”

If the Greens supported the referendum, it would certainly have “explosive power for the coalition,” said Filzmaier. In view of the double-digit poll values, the loss of some supporters can be accepted. And in terms of content, the demands go much further than, for example, in the party law, which the ÖVP and the Greens have negotiated toughly and want to pass before the summer.

And ÖVP, SPÖ and FPÖ would have the problem anyway that it would be “paradoxical” if they suddenly discovered the topic for themselves and were therefore not very credible in this role.

Missed Chance

As governing parties, one can also use the “gap” that referendums have: that they do not have to be a concrete legal text, but more or less concrete proposals for a law. For example, governing parties could claim that a large part of the demands would be implemented anyway with the party law. According to the political scientist, the “embarrassment” that even the Court of Auditors submitted its own draft last year because nothing was moving is then simply kept secret.

Historically, in Filzmaier’s opinion, the ÖVP and SPÖ damaged each other with their de facto rejection of more direct democracy. Because that always creates the opportunity for questionable movements, such as those currently opposed to vaccination, to claim that they represent the majority of the population, not the elected parties. According to Filzmaier, an open debate in the context of referendums would also be an opportunity to refute such claims.

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