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Austria's Beer Party founder vies to be next president

AFP
AFP - [email protected]
Austria's Beer Party founder vies to be next president
This file photo taken on September 9, 2022 shows Dominik Wlazny, founder of the Beer Party (Bierpartei), as he presents posters for his presidential campaign in downtown Vienna, Austria. (Photo by JOE KLAMAR / AFP)

With his long dark hair and torn jeans, punk rock singer Dominik Wlazny of Austria's Beer Party seems an unlikely candidate for the country's next president.

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But that's exactly what the 35-year-old aims to be, as he seeks to shake up a presidential race dominated by politicians mostly backed by more established parties -- several rocked by corruption scandals.

Running against six others, including incumbent Alexander Van der Bellen, Wlazny is the first-ever presidential candidate from the Beer Party, named for its advocacy of the popular beverage.

Wlazny describes his campaign for the October 9 vote as a "David vs Goliath fight", with Van der Bellen widely tipped to clinch a second mandate.

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But he's hoping to win some voters over with his party's unconventional approach to politics.

The party's goals include having a fountain in the capital that dispenses beer, saying in a proposal to the city it could "raise the quality of life" for residents and draw tourists.

READ ALSO: Van der Bellen could avoid run-off in presidential election as still strong favourite: poll

Wlazny's bare-bones presidential campaign, dubbed "Let's talk about it", pushes for gender equality and animal welfare, among other issues.

His messaging is also unconventional, sending updates via online satirical clips, and Wlazny says his appeal is to anyone who "has a desire for change".

"Beer is a great thing. But actually it's about how you can get involved, and you don't have to be a beer drinker for that," Wlazny, better known by his stage name Marco Pogo, told AFP.

Hiring reform

The Beer Party, founded by Wlazny in 2015 as a "satirical project", now has some 1,000 members. Wlazny and 10 others serve as district counsellors in Vienna following 2020 city elections.

With some six million people eligible to cast their ballots, polls put Wlazny as likely to earn just around five percent in the presidential election with Van der Bellen getting some 60 percent.

The 78-year-old ecologist has to earn more than 50 percent of the vote, or else face his closest challenger in a run-off in November.

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In 2016, Van der Bellen had to fight it out in two rounds when a far-right politician raked in more votes than expected, but a series of graft allegations has since eroded the far-right's support and shaken the EU member's conservative-led government.

The presidential post itself is mostly ceremonial, but Wlazny believes he could do "a lot of good things".

READ ALSO: Austrian presidential elections: What exactly does the president do?

As president, Wlazny says, he would vet candidates proposed as ministers, making them go through a hiring process like in a company, to seek to avoid political chaos due to unfit leaders.

Currently the president usually doesn't reject the government's choices.

"I often have the feeling that it's harder to get an apprenticeship in Austria than a ministerial post," Wlazny said.

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Cabaret on the side

Wlazny himself studied medicine in Vienna and worked as a general doctor in a hospital before quitting in 2014 to focus on music.

Besides being the lead singer of the band Turbobier, he performs cabaret and works with breweries to make his own beer, which is sold in Vienna supermarkets.

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

Wlazny said as president he would also want to push for the establishment of a so-called "Future Ministry" to check the impact of policy decisions on security, the environment, health and other sectors.

He said measures should have been taken decades ago to avoid the country's dependence on fossil fuels, which hurts it now amid the ripple effects of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

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At a recent event where Wlazny unveiled his few campaign posters -- he has put up just nine in total -- dozens gathered near a central Vienna shopping street, some just curious, others ready to support him.

"I am very happy that there is someone who stands up for good values... He is young, he is of this era," Brigitta Koppelhuber, 78, a retiree from Vienna, told AFP.

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