A Day That Changed Not Only Graz

For the first time since 1945 in a large Austrian city, the second largest in the country with about 300,000 inhabitants, the bourgeois candidate was voted out in favour of a Communist. Long-time mayor Siegfried Nagl (ÖVP – conservative) suffered heavy losses, while the KPÖ under city councilwoman Elke Kahr came out in first place.

For Communists the figures are stunning: KPÖ (Austrian Communist Party) 28.8% (previously 20.3%), ÖVP 25.9% (previously 37.8%), Greens 17.3% (previously 10.5%), FPÖ (extreme right) 10.6% (previously 15.9%), SPÖ (Social Democratic Party) 9,5% (previously 10.0%), NEOS (liberal) 5.4% (previously 3.9%).

In the 48-person City Council this means an increase for the KPÖ from 10 to 15 seats and in the City Senate, the city government, from 2 to 3 seats. The ÖVP will have 2 and the Greens and FPÖ each 1.

Not only a ‘caretaker party’

It is evident that the full ramifications of such an electoral result cannot be immediately analysed in all of its dimensions. But one thing is clear: This success of the Graz KPÖ has a long prehistory of a consistent and unerringly pursued social and popular municipal policy, together with the KPÖ leaders’ personal engagement and manifest self-imposed restriction in refusing to accept their full salaries (donating most of them to poor Graz residents), which gave the hitherto governing parties in Graz avery tough time. But the Graz KPÖ is not just the ‘caretaker’ party.

The Graz Communists were able, through referenda and petitions, to prevent even prestigious and adventurous projects, such as the city’s applications for the Olympics, the funicular on the Plabusch, a mountain in the township, or most recently the plans to construct a Graz underground, through which the conservative party tried to make its mark. Also unforgotten was the announcement by Kahr’s predecessor Ernest Kaltenegger, the City Councilman for Housing, on the occasion of the ‘European City of Culture Graz’, that culture means that every municipal apartment unit must have its own bathroom, which he then implemented.

We should also not forget the tricks with which the ‘black-blue’ (conservative and far-right) city government tried, after the last elections, to undermine the KPÖ by eliminating the housing department and disallowing the appointment of Elke Kahr, who won second place in the vote, as vice-mayor. Graz voters’ sense of justice was disturbed by these affronts.

Successes also in the districts

Part of the electoral success were the results in the 17 Graz districts, in which the KPÖ can now claim the district mayoralty of eight districts instead of one. The KPÖ’s stable anchoring in Graz is also demonstrated by the voter migration analysis. 80% of KPÖ voters in 2017 stuck with the party – the highest percentage of all parties, and the party relatively received its greatest growth from the previous non-voter segment. Moreover, even apparently entrenched political bastions – Mr. Nagl’s mayoral office still seemed untouchable just hours before the polls opened – could be swiftly eroded.

From now on, the KPÖ is not only the mayoral party in Graz but is also present, in part in alliances, in three other Austrian federal state capitals (Linz, Salzburg, Innsbruck) and for a year now has been represented in Vienna as well, together with LINKS (Left) in 15 districts with 23 seats.

In the words of KPÖ federal spokesman Tobias Schweiger: ‘For us it is clear that this was not only a victory in Graz but also a strong signal for a strong left in all of Austria.

originally published at the Austrian left-wing magazine Volksstimme (full version)