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Politico.eu's June 6 2023 Watch out Ukraine, here comes the Hungaro-Austrian Empire begins:

VIENNA — Austrian politician Herbert Kickl is a pro-Russian, anti-American conspiracy theorist who champions horse dewormer as a remedy for COVID-19 and wants to turn the Alpine country into a “fortress” against migration.

He’s also the odds-on favorite to become his country’s next leader and Europe’s next big headache.

but later says:

Kickl is far from a shoo in. Thanks to his abrasive style, his personal approval rating is among the lowest of any Austrian politician’s.

What’s more, support for the Freedom Party has proved volatile in the past and this latest spurt is likely driven more by frustration with what many Austrians see as the dysfunction of the current government than hopes for renewal under the far right.

My take so far on the article is that it's goal is to make readers aware of some of the geopolitical implications of a win by the Freedom party, and to elude to the state of opinion polling for the next Austrian legislative election rather than to make a prediction of the outcome of the Next Austrian legislative election:

Legislative elections will be held in Austria by autumn 2024 to elect the 28th National Council, the lower house of Austria's bicameral parliament.

I'm most familiar with the US system of government a "2.1 party system", and parliamentary systems with n >> 2 parties confuse me.

Is the article suggesting that while Kickl the individual may not be popular, a Freedom party win above some threshold would de facto make Kickl the leader of the country?

One might naively think that the Freedom party would simply find a more popular leader to move forward and improve its chances - what am I missing?

Question: How can Herbert Kickl be "the odds-on favorite" with a "personal approval rating.. among the lowest of any Austrian politician’s"?

"bonus points" for some insight into why the Freedom party wouldn't simply find a more popular leader to move forward and improve its chances further.

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    "parliamentary systems with n >> 2 parties confuse me." They confuse me, and I have been living in one my whole life. In a two party system at least half the voters (with a grain of salt, I know it's more complicated) get what they want, while multi party systems seem designed to make everyone unhappy due to necessary compromises in coalition building. Might be relevant to the question, since it might result in people getting into office that no voter ever would have elected. Jun 10, 2023 at 8:39
  • @Eike I think I already have. In a two party system the coalition building happens before the election. In a multiparty PR system, it happens after.
    – James K
    Jun 10, 2023 at 14:28
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    The Republicans (eg) have a MAGA wing, a libertarian wing, a Tea Party wing, a traditional social conservative wing, a religious wing and so on. These "parties" form a coalition under the moniker of "Republican". A religious voter will then be encourage to vote for the MAGA candidate. They don't get what they want but may avoid a "worse" outcome.
    – James K
    Jun 10, 2023 at 14:28
  • @JamesK oh, is an "Aha!" moment for me, yes I see... and don't like it one bit. Jun 10, 2023 at 21:45

2 Answers 2

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A Freedom party win would make Kickl the most likely Chancellor. In multi-party democracies the leader of the party with most votes normally becomes the "Chancellor" or "Prime Minister".

In the Austria system of proportional representation, each party gets a number of representatives in proportion to the number of votes it gets, providing it gets more than 5% of the votes. Currently the Freedom party has about 30% of the vote, with the Conservative OVP and Social-democrat SPO have about 25%. The Greens and a Libertarian group NEOS each have about 10%. If this were the result in the General election, then the Freedom Party would be the largest party in the Parliament.

It would not hold a majority and so it would need to find a partner - For example it could form a coalition with the OVP, The resulting coalition would have 55% of the seats in Parliament. Part of the coalition agreement would be the nomination of a Chancellor, but as the party with the larger number of seats, the Freedom Party would have a strong case that its leader should get this office.

Other coalitions are possible. But an anti Freedom Party coalition might need three parties to join and the parties would be from very different places on the political spectrum.

In a 2 party system, the coalition-forming process happens before the election: the Republican party and the Democratic party of the USA are both effectively coalitions of multiple ideologies. In a multi-party system like Austria, each party has a more narrowly defined ideology, but coalition forming occurs publically after the election.

Why not just get rid of Kickl. Because he is a polarising politician. You either love him or hate him. Among his Freedom party members he is very popular, and it is the members that choose the leader of the party, not the whole electorate.

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    It might be worth saying that "odds on favorite" is a bit of journalistic puff. There are at least 3 parties that have a good chance of being the largest party by autumn 2024
    – James K
    Jun 10, 2023 at 7:08
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I am going to answer this broadly rather than directly about the Austrian political system:

In a Westminister style Parliamentary political system the party with the most elected members form the Government. This government is formed and run by choosing elected members from their party to form a Council of ministers and a Head for the council, typically called the Prime Minister.

Sometimes, it can happen that no party gets a clear majority. In such a case, the political parties work among themselves to form an alliance to reach a majority figure. And the coalition of parties who manages to get a majority forms the government. But in a coalition the Council of Ministers are chosen from among the various parties in the alliance. So it can happen in a coalition that the Prime Minister needn't necessarily be from the party with the most seats.

Most Parliamentary forms of government have a First Past the Post electoral system. A flaw of this system is that sometimes a party that wins the most votes, may not also necessarily win more seats - called a majority reversal.

Take an example of 5 parties fighting in a constituency. If all the 5 parties are equally popular, a winning candidate only needs more than 20% of the votes to win. So it can happen that in 100 constituencies, a popular party can still win a bigger overall share of the votes, and yet win fewer seats than some other party.

Thus, in such kinds of fractured electoral verdict, with no clear majority in the Parliament a coalition government is the only possible outcome. In such political scenarios, the leader of even a small party with few seats can bargain hard for a Cabinet Minister's post or even the post of the Prime Minister.

This is how an "unpopular" leader of a minor political party can still get a chance to be the Prime Minister of a country.

(Note though that running a coalition government is not easy, as the lack of majority means you have to please a lot of parties / elected members to push a government policy through the Parliament.)

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  • @James I was not sure about that and hence avoided direct reference to the Austrian political system.
    – sfxedit
    Jun 10, 2023 at 7:03
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    I appreciate your answer (+1) and find it quite helpful. I took measures to explain how far out fo my depth I was when it comes to parliamentary governments and you answered at my level. uhoh's lemma #3 reminds us that Stack Exchange is both a floor wax and a desert topping. You've simply chosen to write the "floor wax" answer, the other is the "desert topping". Jun 18, 2023 at 7:38

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