Media Monitor: Conscription Referendum
Reaction in German-language media following the 2013 Conscription Referendum.
Mandatory Military Service Beats SPÖ
20 Jan. 2013
by Cathrin Kahlweit
The Austrian electorate has decided to keep conscription. This was to be expected, yet the clear result of 60% in favour is a slap in the face for the Social Democrats. A clean victory for the [conservative] ÖVP.
It was clear that a professional army would be rejected. And it has been a slap in the face for the SPÖ. [...] 60 per cent against a professional army constitutes a pretty severe blow for Social Democrats. The Austrian Minister of Defence, [Norbert Darabos], who one year ago advocated for conscription, has so far refused to step down.
The defeat shows that the SPÖ completely misjudged the situation: their own campaigning skills, the power of tabloid papers, which sided with the ÖVP, and the ability to coherently explain a complex issue. And the SPÖ failed to understand the views of their own electorate. The party has strongly opposed a professional army for over 70 years, mainly because it had been professional soldiers that shot at workers in 1934. This change of position, which the SPÖ attempted to push through, was an attack on the party’s soul.
SPÖ Scores Against Itself
21 Jan. 2013
by Alexandra Föderl-Schmid
For the SPÖ, the result of the referendum was a self-inflicted handicap at the start of the so-called super election year. The SPÖ was unable to provide convincing arguments for changing its position with regards to mandatory military service. Although the ÖVP also reversed its stance, the leading ÖVP politicians still managed to present themselves as a unified block.[...]
Those who are not convinced aren’t able to convince others: This is especially true for Norbert Darabos. Primarily occupied with having to justify himself in recent months, the [Social Democratic] Minister of Defence stated on Sunday [20 Jan.], he wishes to remain in office. Whether or not he does, it won’t make a big difference – the next national election is only eight months away. He has been a ‘lame duck’ for quite some time now. After [signing] the Eurofighter deal [in 2007], Darabos has yet to defend his position on another issue that he once publicly rejected in the past.
Referendum Hangover, 22 Jan. 2013
by Reinhard Göweil
Conscription, lashed and stowed by the Austrian electorate, should become "experience-oriented", the [Conservative] People’s Party declared the day after. This strange wording is the price of an indifferent debate. The mandatory military service will stay in place, because a majority chose the alternative service. […]
The hangover after the referendum-party is also a result of a big gulp of ‘direct democracy’. Men over 60 especially tipped the scales in favour of conscription, whereas the younger generation voted for a professional army (even though the ÖVP pulled a different poll out of its drawer). Whether young people accept being outnumbered in future by a much larger ‘pensioner generation’ would indeed be worth a political (education) debate.
Read more reaction at "Conscription Referendum: The Third Option" in the Feb. 2013 TVR.
For more on referendums in Austria see "Background: Popular Petitions in Austria" in June 2012 TVR.