Jockeying for Power
It might have been a job for Frank Stauss. But, ironically, the advertising executive with the Dusseldorf-based agency Butter, who successfully advised former Chancellor Gerhard Schroder and other German Social Democrats, has been hired by the OVP. Since then, he has been coaching Austria's conservatives, under party chairman and Vice Chancellor Michael Spindelegger, as part of their effort to secure an election victory. It isn't exactly an easy task. Fortunately, Faymann's SPO, which is essentially the "only force on the left that can be taken seriously," is not taking advantage of the fragmentation of the party landscape, says Stauss. Austria, he explains, is still a "very successful country with a high standard of living." But, he adds, a more hands-on chancellor -- meaning Spindelegger -- is needed if things are to stay that way. The unintentionally ambiguous slogan "Chancellor for Optimists" is printed on the signs that party supporters are holding up at a major OVP campaign rally on the grounds of the Vienna convention center, ringing in the final phase of the quest to unseat Faymann. Spindelegger's advisers have made sure that spontaneous enthusiasm will be as little a part of this evening as it is during the perfectly staged national conventions of the two major parties in the United States. The question of questions is whether Spindelegger should play the junior partner to Faymann for several more years. Spindelegger coyly admits that the chancellor is looking around for another coalition partner and has already set his sights on Green Party leader Eva Glawischnig. The Greens are the only established party to have emerged unscathed from the countless corruption scandals of recent years. They admittedly haven't forgiven Faymann for failing to appear before a commission investigating corruption or for consistently applying the emergency brake, together with the conservatives, whenever there are calls for more transparency. But if it isn't with the SPO, it is almost inconceivable that the Greens would have a chance to be part of a ruling coalition. The Greens expect to garner 15 percent of the vote, thanks to, or perhaps in spite of, their top candidate. Glawischnig appeared on a campaign poster next to a lamb, along with the slogan: "Not as sheepish as the rest." In a TV debate with the chancellor, Glawischnig didn't hestitate to emphasize the Greens' pioneering role in the fight against bee mortality. But who knows? Perhaps this will ultimately score points with voters in a country where even the speaker of the parliament chaired a special session dressed in a sort of bee costume to express her solidarity for the pesticide-threatened insect. Discontent among the Content One thing is clear: This campaign isn't about the war in Syria or the euro crisis. That the "representatives of the angry petit bourgeois" will likely capture at least a quarter of all votes in the EU's second-richest country, as an equally irate columnist in the daily Der Standard complained, is not a new phenomenon. What is new is the number of populists now running for office in a country that used to have only a single prominent populist: Heinz-Christian Strache. Strache, the leader of the Freedom Party of Austria (FPO), is predicted to capture up to 20 percent of the vote. He and his party even made themselves at home in the courtyard of Vienna's traditionally left-wing city hall, where Social Democrats are currently in power. During a campaign rally on an evening in September, SPO officials in their surrounding offices must have felt their ears burning while FPO supporters were treating themselves to free beer, sausages and campaign rhetoric down below. If the Social Democrats are so fond of Turkish immigrants, the FPO politicians quipped, they might as well get their orders "in Ankara" in the future. Calling for tougher policies against immigrants, they proclaimed that the "free ride for welfare scroungers" is about to come to an end. And thanks to Strache, they added, Austria is about to experience its own "blue miracle," referring to the party's official color. As the event drew to a close, Strache told his supporters that the "SPO and the OVP will experience the worst results in their parties' history" in the upcoming National Assembly election. And, indeed, the polls suggest he could be right. But, then again, there are the amazing results of the recently published United Nations World Happiness Report. According to them, under the grand coalition, Austria has climbed five slots, to eighth place, among the world's happiest countries.