Parliament and Elections
The Constitution says: "Austria is a democratic republic. Its law emanates from the people" (Federal Constitutional Law, Artikel 1 B-VG). Austrians do not pass their laws themselves but appoint, in National Council elections, representatives that perform the legislative work on their behalf – the Members of the National Council.
The Right to Vote – Backbone of Democracy
Representative (or Parliamentary) Democracy
Austria is a representative (or parliamentary) democracy. This means that Members of Parliament pass laws as representatives of the voters. Unlike the situation in a direct democracy, political decisions are not entrusted to the people themselves but to parliament. Free elections are the hallmark of democracy.
What the People Can Do
People can, however, influence political decisions even in a representative democracy – through popular initiatives, referendums and non-binding (consultative) referendums, all of which are instruments of direct democracy. But they cannot legislate themselves – legislation always needs to be approved by the Parliament elected by them.
Who Is Entitled to Vote?
A distinction is made between what is called active and passive suffrage – the right to vote and the right to stand for election. Austrians can vote in elections from 16 years of age, and become candidates from age 18 onwards, with one exception: for candidates for the office of Federal President the minimum age is 35 years. People can be denied the right to vote if they have been sentenced to a prison term of more than one year and the court passes a decision to that effect.
Election and Recall
Parliament, the Federal Government, the Federal Chancellor, the Federal President – all political institutions envisaged by the Constitution are directly or indirectly derived from the outcome of elections. The universal free suffrage is so important just because it is to guarantee that all citizens can participate in political life. And politicians can be recalled – which is also part and parcel of the democratic system.
What Kind of Elections Are there in Austria?
In Austria elections are held for five different purposes: to determine the membership of the National Council, the Provincial Diets, Municipal Councils and the European Parliament, and to elect the Federal President.
How Do Elections Work?
Election ad personam or by Lists: Two Different Forms
In Austria elections are organised in two different ways: election ad personam and election of party lists (“slates”) on the basis of proportional representation.
Election ad personam (“per person”) means that people vote directly for a candidate; in the party-list election process, each party draws up a list of candidates, and the voters cast their ballots for one of the parties and thus for the persons on that party’s slate.
Elected ad personam: The Federal President
In Austria only the Federal President is elected ad personam; all the other elections are by party list.
Elected from Rank 14 …Election by Party List
In this system, the votes are cast first and foremost for a particular political party. Before the election, the parties that stand for election present their “slates“ to the election authority. The more votes are cast for a political party, the more persons on that slate are voted into office.
In recent decades various elements of the ad personam election system have been introduced into elections by party list – for instance by allowing voters to express their preference for particular persons on the slate.
Many Votes, many Seats: Proportional Representation
In the system of proportional representation the votes cast are converted into “mandates“ (i.e. seats in the respective body). This system is used in all elections by party list. The ratio of votes cast and number of seats to be assigned then determines how many seats a party has obtained.
Links with the principal legal bases regarding elections: