Hannes Richter

Austria’s Presidential Election

Hannes Richter

In Austria's presidential election on April 25, Mr. Heinz Fischer, Deputy Speaker of the Lower House of the Austrian Parliament and candidate of the Social Democratic Party, took 52.4% of the vote against 47.6% for Foreign Minister Benita Ferrero-Waldner, a conservative. Mr. Fischer will assume the presidency on July 8, 2004 replacing current President Thomas Klestil, who is ending two six-year terms. Mrs. Ferrero-Waldner will continue as Foreign Minister. After some forty years in parliament, Mr. Fischer is one of the most experienced social democratic politicians in Austria. At age sixty-five, he is known for his adeptness in mediating partisan bickering among factions. Born in 1938 in Graz, Mr. Fischer studied law at the University of Vienna earning his Ph.D in 1961. He began his career with the Social Democratic Party in the 1960s, rising to Speaker as well as Deputy Speaker of the Lower House of parliament.


Heinz Fischer and Benita Ferrero-Waldner

Although the post of president is largely symbolic and has mostly representative functions, the president's voice counts on important issues. The Austrian president is commander-in-chief of the military, and the constitution gives him the power to influence the formation of government. But, as Imma Palme of Vienna's Institute for Empirical Social Research says, "What Austrians want in a president is primarily a moral authority... a ceremonious personality who can represent Austria well internationally and act as a moderating influence at home."