Loser suddenly becomes a winner in Austria’s SPÖ

The divided Social Democrats finally wanted to get some peace with the election. Nothing came of it. Because of a counting error, the SPÖ reached a new low.

Happy too early: Burgenland's governor Hans Peter Doskozil celebrates after the election as party leader of the SPÖ.  The result will be corrected later. 

Happy too early: Burgenland’s governor Hans Peter Doskozil celebrates after the election as party leader of the SPÖ. The result will be corrected later. Helmut Fohringer/dpa

The election for party leader of the Austrian Social Democrats ended with an unprecedented mishap: the opposition party SPÖ announced on Monday that it was not Hans Peter Doskozil, who had been elected party leader on Saturday, who won – but his competitor Andreas Babler. The votes were swapped during the count, said the head of the election commission, Michaela Grubesa. At the party conference in Linz, the left-wing party rebel Babler (50) emerged victorious with 53 percent of the delegate votes, and not Doskozil, known for his restrictive migration policy, with 47 percent.

However, Babeler did not respond with joy or relief. Instead, with a serious expression, he demanded that the delegates’ votes be re-examined once and for all. He said he would only accept the chair if he was still the winner. Babler described the breakdown as a “low point” for the SPÖ. “What happened here cannot be justified or put into perspective,” he said in parliament.

Those are Andreas Babler’s goals

Babler is a member of the Bundesrat – the small parliamentary chamber – and mayor of Traiskirchen. The small town south of Vienna is known for the largest state refugee camp in Austria. In the past few weeks, Babeler has positioned himself as an advocate of a humane asylum policy. He also calls for a more self-confident fight for higher wages and a 32-hour work week with full pay.

Before the party congress, Babler had caused a stir with his self-description as a Marxist, which he quickly put into perspective. In addition, statements by him from 2020 appeared in which he described the European Union as the “most aggressive foreign policy military alliance that has ever existed”.

Hans Peter Doskozil immediately admits defeat

Doskozil immediately admitted defeat on Monday. “It is undisputed to take note of the election result in this way,” said the Prime Minister of Burgenland, whose border with Hungary is considered an important section of the migration route from the Balkans to Western Europe.

Doskozil’s defeat is not without a good dose of irony. After all, it was the state politician and former defense minister who triggered the election of the party leadership with years of verbal cross-shots against the outgoing party leader Pamela Rendi-Wagner.

Counting error happened when transferring to an Excel spreadsheet

The counting error happened when it was transferred to an Excel spreadsheet, said Grubesa. In fact, Doskozil got 280 votes, but Babler got 317 votes. This was discovered by chance during a recount on Monday. It had become necessary to explain why a voice was missing. This turned out to be invalid. The party apologized to Doskozil, said Grubesa.

Criticism and malice from the political competition were not long in coming. “The fantasies about Marxism, expropriation, wealth taxes and class struggle are now the order of the day,” said Karl Mahrer of the conservative Chancellor’s Party ÖVP. “If you can’t organize elections, you won’t win one,” tweeted the general secretary of the liberal Neos, Douglas Hoyos.

Parliamentary elections are scheduled for autumn 2024 in Austria. According to pollsters, the right-wing FPÖ is currently in first place with around 28 percent, followed by the SPÖ with 23 percent. The ÖVP, which governs together with the Greens, is in third place with around 21 percent.

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