Thomas Klestil’s quandaries, or else Jörg Haider’s shadow shades the Austrian democracy!


It is not known at the time of my writing yet how the President Of Austria, Thomas Klestil, will decide about the proposed coalition platform and minister-list of the People’s Party and the Freedom Party. Nor it is known what the preamble offered to the President contains. If Klestil undertakes it at all to participate in the constitution of the ÖVP-FPÖ coalition by writing the prefatory part of the government program.

I am convinced that President Thomas Klestil is living the hardest days of his life nowadays. The Austrian President is known as a committed adherent of democracy and he is an acknowledged politician worldwide. I wonder whether the Austrian President has real helpers. I mean such people who do their advisory function feeling the significance of the President’s position seeming to be almost insoluble. The arguments are known on both visible sides. On the one hand, the new Austrian situation is a reality which had unquestionably come about on the basis of the result of the democratic elections of a democratic country. Can they and are they allowed to intervene in a situation formed on the basis of the decision of the electorate by means unusual in democracies for the reason of protecting the democracy? I think, they must not! Then is it acceptable that the President, quoting his own words, „-in spite of his best will- has to accept” the new situation and approve of such a coalition which is now unfit for good society and unacceptable in the democratic part of the world? Can he „better” the platform of the coalition incompatible with his principles by drafting the preamble of the platform, the purpose of which would be the declaration of the worth of the European democracy, this way helping the acceptability of an unacceptable platform?

Although in the opinion of the leaders of the member states of the European Union the Austrian situation means the politically hardest moment of the history of the EU. They really made actions against the coalition with unexpected resolution which could be considered even as intervention in the home affairs of the country. But their position is still not so hard. Because it is not them to find the solution! All the leaders of the EU have to do is express it by a statement that they cling to their own principles. And in the case of a member state of the EU the attitude of the leaders of the state, who direct the country, to democracy is not a home affair any more. Because Austria actually has the right to elect any government to power as a home affair if they do not want to maintain the EU-membership of the country. I read numerous statements of politicians in the days past which suggested and accepted a typical „politician-like” way of solution. On the one hand they express their disapproval about the new situation but according to their habit they think the responsibility of any steps avoidable by saying that the new Austrian coalition can and have to be judged according to its acts. They think similarly of the President’s doubts. They acquit the Austrian President in advance if he accepts, or rather acknowledges the new situation. Because in this case they declare the presidential function independent from the President’s will on the basis of its protocol (it is familiar also from our own experiences, is it not?) being.

I do not think it this way! I am convinced that nobody, including the President, can be obliged to do anything that is incompatible with his own principles, creed. If it was not this way then we could not call it a democracy because numerous basic principles of democracy would sustain an injury. And if it is this way then also the Austrian President (and his helpers) have to know that they have to find another solution in the new situation. They must(!) set out from it that the President’s decision can never be protocol because then the necessity of this step would not have to be assured in the Constitution. It is true even in that case if they had thought it when they put it down in the Constitution that the presidential approval would mean the honor, the prestige for a government-coalition. Although I think it means more but it is true also in the above-mentioned narrow sense that in this case it is this prestige, honor to be refused the imminent coalition. According to the Austrian laws in this case a constitutional crisis can happen in the country which finally can lead even to the declaration of new elections. It is questionable whether a president has the right to apparently come into antagonism with the will of the people of the country. Although, according to my judgement, this antagonism is only apparent, I still say that it is not allowed, this would be contrary to the principles of democracy.

Then is there no solution which can at least raise a new chance? I think there is! There is, if the involved ones consistently accept both themselves and their obligations. There ism if Thomas Klestil exercises his human right and refuses to „bless” the forming coalition. He refuses it because neither statute nor law can oblige him to give up his principles, to support such a prospect which he wishes neither for himself nor for Austria. But he must not antagonize the will of the country as president, so he must(!) resign his assignment as president simultaneously with his negative decision.

This double decision can create an extremely hard situation in Austria but this political course can also give a chance to the country to reconsider its decision, votes. In the case of the President’s negative decision and resignation new elections should be declared in Austria for both the seats in Parliament and the presidency. I believe it sincerely that the ration of votes for the nominated parties would significantly change by the new elections. The Austrians, including the ones who had become a bit indolent in the past, would become more active recognizing it by now what happened if they ceded the decision to the much louder and more active minority by their disinterest, indolence.

And as for the President’s resignation, it would give such an example which would give a chance to introduce the worth of democracy by debates, battles of different opinions to all those who did not live in the past yet. For whom history was „just” a subject in their lives, what they liked or what engaged their attention less.

I am also convinced that the President’s decision would cause only an apparent and short failure also in his political path of life, his role in history. And the new president of Austria would surely be Thomas Klestil’s namesake!

February 2, 2000 János Palotás