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EXPLAINED: How does Austria’s presidential election work?

This year Austrians will vote in the Federal Presidential election, but how does the process work, and who could be the next President?

Austria's President Alexander Van der Bellen
The election of the Federal President will take place in Austria in October. (Photo by JOE KLAMAR / AFP)

The federal presidential election will take place in autumn 2022 as Alexander Van der Bellen (who represents the Green Party) reaches the end of his six-year term as president. 

In May, Van der Bellen announced he will stand for a second term and he is tipped as a strong contender.

In the meantime, here’s everything you need to know about the upcoming election and what could happen later this year.

What does the Austrian President actually do?

The Federal President is the chief diplomat in Austria – essentially the head of state of the Austrian Republic.

The president is responsible for protecting democracy in Austria, providing moral support to the country and assisting in the integration of minorities into the political process, as well as swearing in and dismissing parliament. 

To become the president of Austria, candidates should have an extensive political background and have a non-partisan (unbiased) approach to politics. 

In some ways, Austria’s president is compared to the role of the Queen in the UK and any political power is often viewed as symbolic. For example, the president is not expected to intervene in the daily running of government, but can make an appeal in certain situations.

Austria’s current president, Van der Bellen, was inaugurated into the role on January 26th 2017 after winning the election in autumn 2016. Van der Bellen is a member of the Green Party and a former member of the Vienna State Parliament and Vienna City Council.

He has had more to do than the average president due to the frequent changes of government, having signed 152 swearing-in documents including appointing new chancellors, vice chancellors, ministers and state secretaries

What is the presidential electoral process in Austria?

Austrian citizens (aged 16 and over) vote in presidential elections every six years and Austria’s Federal President is eligible for two elected terms.

A presidential candidate must be an Austrian citizen, be eligible to vote in the National Assembly and be at least 35 years old on election day. 

Members of ruling dynasties or from families that have reigned in the past are not eligible to run in the presidential election. This is to avoid a return to monarchy in Austria via the role of Federal President.

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To become a candidate for the role of President, names must be submitted to the federal electoral authority at least 30 days before the election date, along with a fee of €3,600. Each nomination has to be signed by 6,000 eligible voters.

Following the vote, the elected Federal President is sworn in with an oath in front of the Federal Assembly. The oath states that the president will “faithfully observe the Constitution and all the laws of the Republic”.

Who could be the next President in Austria?

Some political figures have already spoken out in favour of Van der Bellen running for a second term, such as President of the Austrian National Council Wolfgang Sobotka (of the governing conservative People’s Party, ÖVP) and centre-left SPÖ leader Pamela Rendi-Wagner.

READ MORE: Who is Karl Nehammer, Austria’s new Chancellor?

There is some support within the Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) and Social Democratic Party of Austria (SPÖ) that van der Bellen should be cleared for re-election without an opposing candidate, to offer the country some stability

However, Governor of Burgenland Hans-Peter Doskozil (SPÖ) has said the announcement of an opposition candidate would send a strong message to the Austrian population that the country is a “self-confident social democracy”.

And Van der Bellen himself hasn’t said whether he even wants to put himself forward for another term.

Additionally, there are rumours that Norbert Hofer, former leader of the far-right Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ), could run for Federal President again (he was defeated by Van der Bellen in 2016). Hofer recently told Die Presse that if he does decide to become a candidate he will make the announcement nearer the time of the autumn election.

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Reader question: Can I vote in Austria’s presidential elections?

On October 9th, Austria will vote to elect a new president, but who can vote in these national elections?

Reader question: Can I vote in Austria's presidential elections?

Austria’s presidential election will take place on October 9th, with seven candidates vying to take over at the Hofburg – the official workplace of the country’s president.

According to opinion polls, the favourite to win is the current president Alexander Van der Bellen, who is running for reelection.

READ ALSO: Austrian presidential elections: Who are the seven candidates?

A presidential candidate must be an Austrian citizen, be eligible to vote in the National Assembly and be at least 35 years old on election day.

Members of ruling dynasties or families that reigned in the past are not eligible to run in the presidential election. This is to avoid a return to monarchy in Austria via the role of the Federal President.

Who can vote in these elections?

The only people allowed to vote in Austrian federal elections are Austrian citizens aged 16 or above.

That means foreigners – even those born and raised in Austria, are not entitled to choose a new president. Unless, of course, they take up Austrian citizenship (usually giving up their original citizenship).

Since Austria has a large proportion of foreigners in the population, many people will not be able to vote in these elections.

READ ALSO: ‘I pay taxes in Austria’: Anger as foreigners barred from Vienna council vote

In fact, some 18 percent of residents (or 1.4 million people) in Austria over the age of 16 do not have the right to vote because they are not citizens, with the highest concentration of ineligible people in Vienna, Innsbruck and Salzburg.

In comparison, 20 years ago, Austria had just 580,000 people without the right to vote.

Statistics Austria data evaluated by the APA shows that around 30 percent of the voting-age population in Vienna, Innsbruck and Salzburg are not entitled to vote. In Linz and Graz, it is about 25 percent.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How does Austria’s presidential election work?

However, there are some smaller communities in Austria where the number of people without the right to vote is even higher.

In Jungholz in Tyrol, 66 percent of the population are not eligible, followed by 51 percent in Mittelberg in Vorarlberg. Kittsee in Burgenland and Wolfsthal in Lower Austria also have high proportions of Slovakian residents who cannot vote.

Austrian citizenship

Currently, in Austria, if someone wants to take up citizenship via naturalisation, they must undergo an extensive and expensive process and fulfil specific criteria.

Generally, there needs to be at least ten years of lawful and uninterrupted residence in Austria. But there are exceptions for those with citizenship of an EU or EEA country, those born in Austria, or married to an Austrian, for example.

READ ALSO: Could Austria change the rules around citizenship?

The main hurdles, however, include having to give up any other citizenships, as Austria doesn’t allow for dual citizenship in naturalisation cases with few exceptions, and the payment of a high fee, which depends on the municipality, but could reach thousands of euros.

And though the topic of easing the requirements has come up several times in Austria, the country doesn’t seem any closer to changing its citizenship laws.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: Where in Europe can non-EU foreigners vote in local elections?

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