Body Language Voter

A different kind of pre-election poll

Opinion | Joseph D. Rollwagen | November 2010

The Viennese mayoral elections are over, but that doesn’t mean that we’ve stopped thinking about it – or that we can’t go back and reflect on whom they should have voted for.

Let’s say, for example, that you are someone living in Vienna without a firm grasp on the German language. And let’s say, that you just happened to tune into the debate between Mayor Häupl, Christine Marek, Heinz-Christian Strache, and Maria Vassilakou; you watch, fascinated, without understanding what was said, not really knowing who these people were…

What would you have thought?  And who would – or should – have won?

In the Puls 4 debate on 5 October, 2010, I take the perhaps controversial position of saying the Freedom Party’s HC Strache would/should have won in a landside. I listen to a lot of what people say about his radical, conservative politics and playing immigrant communities off each other.

As an outsider who can’t understand a damn word he says, I can see he’s aloof and a prototypical city-slicker politician. It is noted that this look or persona isn’t necessarily the dictionary definition of trustworthy, but the physical appearance and the way the candidate acts seem to captivate an audience.

And this is exactly what I think of when it comes to big city mayors. Gelled back hair, a nice suit, and a fire in the way he presents his cause (whatever it may be).

Vienna Mayor Michael Häupl on the other hand, just didn’t seem like a cosmopolitan mayor of a world capital at all. To me, he was the picture of a jolly, heavy drinking man with the common touch, who would fit in perfectly as the leader of your local municipality. His voice was mellow and dismissive towards Strache, and he was visibly uncomfortable in his suit that seemed to pinch under the arms.

ÖVP candidate Christine Marek, unfortunately, seemed caught in the clichés of a trying-too-hard woman politician, forcing herself to be a bulldog, jumping on what the others said, on the attack. The sad fact is that woman in politics are often unappreciated and have to absolutely claw their way into the spot light Or, she can resort to radicalism (think Michelle Bachmann and Christine O’Donnell in the United States) saying inflammatory things to garner attention.

Green Party candidate Maria Vassilakou was the opposite, and seemed kind to a fault. She smiled, she nodded in apparent agreement with the host, and didn’t attack, which unfortunately made her foggy in my memory, actually. In fact, it was a thoroughly forgettable performance.

It needs to be said, however, that Vassilakou is a highly qualified candidate and a hard-worker underscored again and again in conversations with Viennese residents. According to these same folks, Strache is a phony who echoes some scary agendas of regimes past in this part of the world. Häupl is apparently a character who enjoys a cocktail or two. If you do a simple search of his name in google, a picture will come up of him wearing a Ché Guevara-esque beret, low-riding sunglasses, pointing at the camera, and a drink in hand. Lastly, Christine Marek grabs descriptions such as: conservative and tough and it seems she is not the most personable of candidates.

The bottom line though is that Häupl was reelected, but surely on the fact that Social Democrats are perennially popular in Vienna (even though the FPÖ made the largest gains, of about 8%, most from the ÖVP but some also probably from the SPÖ).

If I could have cast a ballot in these elections, without knowing any of the borderline despicable rhetoric of the Freedom Party, the polished HC Strache would probably have received my vote. Knowing what I do though, I am not one to fall for the theater. Unfortunately, in the absence of a well-informed public, it’s easy enough to see why he would get so many votes.

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