Member survey decided: power struggle in the SPÖ

Member survey decided: power struggle in the SPÖ

The power struggle in Austria’s Social Democrats is to be decided with a survey. Governor Doskozil challenges the party leader.

Pamela Rendi-Wagner with colleague Hans Peter Doskozil

Pamela Rendi-Wagner with colleague Hans Peter Doskozil (both SPÖ) in February Photo: Imago

VIENNA taz | The power struggle within Austrian social democracy is now openly fought. The party members should decide via survey. The result is then approved or rejected at an extraordinary party conference. The SPÖ presidium and the subsequent consultation of the party executive decided on Wednesday afternoon.

The power struggle between the current party leader Pamela Rendi-Wagner and Hans Peter Doskozil, currently governor of Burgenland, which has been smoldering for years, is to be ended. The showdown is expected to take place in May.

Doskozil himself always knows everything better than the party leadership in Vienna and doesn’t keep quiet about it. But so far he had never announced official ambitions for the federal presidency. That has now changed.

On Tuesday he threw down the gauntlet to Rendi-Wagner in a letter. Unlike them, he does not want to face a vote at a special party conference, but wants a “membership decision”. This is the name of the binding ballot in the statutes of the SPÖ. The member survey that has now been decided is non-binding, but can hardly be ignored if the party is to be pacified.

Doskozil is the only strong SPÖ governor

The bureau, which met on Wednesday to decide how to proceed, consists of ten voting members. In addition to the party leader and her deputies, these are primarily the state party leaders.

Doskozil voluntarily gave up his seat, but was invited. He has an outstanding position in that he is the only SPÖ governor who still has an absolute majority and can therefore govern his state with relative sovereignty. He does this with an enviable minimum wage of 1,700 euros in the public sector, employment by the state for caregiving relatives and other social democratic desiderata.

At the same time, he stands for a tough defensive policy against immigrants. The refugees who are brought into the country every day by smugglers across the long border with Hungary move on quickly and are hardly visible, but they create a “subjective” feeling of insecurity among the population of Burgenland, which can be used to make politics.

So Doskozil not only has the provincial party leaders in Salzburg, Lower Austria and Upper Austria behind him, but also a significant part of the party base, where international solidarity has long since given way to vested interests and fear of foreigners.

Rendi-Wagner has the heavyweights of the committees behind him

For her part, Rendi-Wagner has the heavyweights in the committees on her side in the form of Vienna Mayor Michael Ludwig, Carinthian Governor Peter Kaiser and the union bosses.

That is why the political scientist and longtime SPÖ observer Anton Pelinka does not expect a successful palace revolt either: “Doskozil will probably not be able to mobilize a majority, regardless of the level, against the current party leader.”

Rendi Wagner would also have defended her position with determination in the last few days – “that was a little surprising for many”. Postscript: “A determination that some have missed in her before.”

In view of the weakness of the ruling conservative ÖVP, to which the former radiant man Sebastian Kurz left a legacy of corruption, unresolved party intrigues and failed claims to omnipotence with his departure at the end of 2021, the SPÖ was in first place in the polls for months.

SPÖ could not benefit from the ÖVP crash

But uncertainty caused by the Corona crisis, the Ukraine war and inflation have driven protest voters to the right-wing FPÖ, who unite at the regional level electoral triumph celebrate after another. It would currently emerge from National Council elections as the strongest party.

The SPÖ is “currently not about content, but about people, content,” says Pelinka in an interview with the Ö1 Mittagsjournal: “Content is lost in the argument between people, between the chairperson and her challenger.”

Rendi-Wagner, who as a woman represents the female majority of the population, cannot exploit this advantage: “A woman at the top is a clear signal to the future of Austrian society.”

The fact that Rendi-Wagner is not undisputed among her supporters is proven by transfer rumors that have been circulating for weeks. The career changer is accused of not having the party under control after almost five years and usually coming across as unhappy in public appearances and TV interviews. It lacks a clear line and does not present any political alternatives such as a traffic light with Greens and liberal Neos.

Doskozil’s broken voice can no longer fill a beer tent

According to a survey he commissioned himself, Doskozil would have a better chance of winning elections. But after several larynx operations, he can only communicate through a hoarse croak and may never again be able to fill a beer tent with his voice.

Therefore, variants were traded again and again in which undisputed third parties could put an end to the dispute, such as the second President of the National Council, Doris Bures, or the trade unionist Barbara Teiber. But that’s probably off the table now.

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