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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?

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Austrians are voting to elect a new president. (Photo by Arnaud Jaegers on Unsplash)

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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POLITICS

Five things you need to know about the Lower Austria elections

One of Austria's most populous provinces is set to choose a new government this Sunday. But why does that matter?

Five things you need to know about the Lower Austria elections

Austria is heading into one of its most significant elections as Lower Austria (Niederösterreich) heads to the polls on Sunday, January 29th, to elect a new regional parliament. 

Current governor Johanna Mikl-Leitner (ÖVP) is seeking reelection, but her party, the centre-right ÖVP, has dropped on voting intention polls.

According to an OGM/Kurier poll from January 21st, the regional ÖVP party, known as VPNÖ, leads the race with 37 percent of voting intentions – far from the majority it would need to govern without a coalition.

Then, the far-right party FPÖ follows with 26 percent of the votes. Next is the centre-left SPÖ with 23 percent, the liberal NEOS with 7 percent and the Greens with 6 percent.

The country has its eyes on this election. But why is it so important and what do you need to know about it?

Lower Austria is a prominent Austrian province

Firstly, Lower Austria is a very significant Austrian province. It’s the second-most populous state in Austria after the capital – it is also the largest state by area. Furthermore, the region surrounds Vienna and many workers in the capital live in nearby cities, as Lower Austria has dozens of commuter towns. 

The state capital is Sankt Pölten, and other major cities include Wiener Neustadt, Amstetten, Klosterneuburg, Krems an der Donau and Stockerau.

READ ALSO: Can the Austrian president refuse to appoint a far-right chancellor?

Historical loss for the ÖVP predicted

To say that the state is a stronghold of the centre-right political party ÖVP, the Austrian People’s Party, is an understatement. The ÖVP has been ahead of the provincial government (and of much of its municipalities) ever since the war. Moreover, it currently holds a majority in the regional parliament, meaning that it rules without the need for a coalition partner.

But things are about to change. Voting intention polls show that the ÖVP will most likely lose its majority in Lower Austria, a testament to the plummeting popularity of the centre-right party.

From the around 50 percent of votes which gave it 29 seats in parliament, the party is now polling at 37 percent.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How do Austrians elect their chancellor?

Not only does that mean Austria will likely see a historical coalition talk taking place in the state, but Lower Austria is also responsible for a large part of the votes that the ÖVP gets in federal elections.

Losing those voters locally might mean a big upset ahead in the National Council, and the parties all know it, with all of the major ones fighting to get voters.

… and a historical win for the FPÖ

At the same time as the ÖVP drops in voter preference, the far-right party FPÖ, known as the Freedom Party, is rising. In the last local elections in 2018, they received 14.8 percent of the votes but now are polling in second place, with 26 percent.

The leader of the FPÖ and former Austrian Interior Minister Herbert Kickl waves the Austrian flag. (Photo by JOE KLAMAR / AFP)

This mirrors a federal rise by the FPÖ, which now polls in first when citizens are asked who they’d vote for in the parliamentary elections. The rise of the far-right is down to many reasons, from its stance on polarising topics such as the Covid-19 pandemic to criticism over the government’s actions regarding the inflation crisis and migration.

READ ALSO: Why is support for Austria’s far-right FPÖ rising?

In Lower Austria, surveys show that citizens are concerned about inflation, climate crisis, and asylum and immigration, many topics where the raging FPÖ speech thrives. 

The election could be seen as an early national vote

Lower Austria is relevant geographically, economically and culturally. With its enormous population, results in the state are often seen as a preview or at least a taste of what’s to come in federal elections. 

And Austria is set to have its next parliamentary elections in the Autumn of 2024, so all eyes are now on Lower Austria.

READ ALSO: Reader question: Will my children get an Austrian passport if born in Austria?

Just as voting intention polls show ÖVP dropping and the FPÖ rising in the federal scenario, the same is seen in the province. Austrian politicians and analysts are watching closely to see how exactly the polls translate to actual votes, how this will influence coalition talks and what a new government will look like there.

Foreigners are still excluded from the democratic process

Something else you should know about the Lower Austrian elections: foreigners are excluded from the democratic process.

The only people who are eligible to vote, according to the government, are those who:

  • are at least 16 years old on election day, January 29th 2023, and
  • on the cut-off date, November 18th, 2022: have Austrian citizenship, have their main place of residence in Lower Austria or are Austrians living abroad who had their last main place of residence in Lower Austria before their stay abroad, and are not excluded from the right to vote due to a court conviction

Foreign residents of Lower Austria, even those with a main residence there for decades and who pay their taxes there, cannot vote in the state elections. 

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

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