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2004-04-16

Ideas about the presidency 

Yesterday evening 20% of all Austrians watched the TV debate between the two candidates for the upcoming election of the Austrian president, Heinz Fischer and Benita Ferrero-Waldner.

Apart from the attempts to carve out their electoral personality profiles, a few things of substance were said about the office:

- Both candidates accept the dominant weak interpretation of the consitutional role of the president as a notary public for the government, without means to enter substantively into the legislative process.

- In consequence, they appeal to the charismatic influence that the president can exert due to his role as head of state.

- How would they use this influence?

Ferrero-Waldner wants the presidency as a "competence center" where debates about important topics take place, with the involvement of stakeholders and experts. The problem here is that Ferrero-Waldner would be hardly more than a moderator of round table discussions, since she does not strike one as a very creative or original thinker herself.

Fischer will advocate the same political positions that he has defended for many decades in prominent roles within the social-democratic party. These positions put him slightly left of the social-democratic mainstream, and he is well versed in arguing for them, but he is not an innovator. He would take a conventional social-democratic credo and present it from the Hofburg (the president's offices). This will not shake up the Austrian political system.

It is sad that there is no candidate who promises to take the democratic legitimation of this office and turn it into a new, original voice in the political debate. There would be room for this, exactly because of the weak constitutional power of the office - the president acts on Austrian society through the power of words, and words alone.


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