In Austria, the elections really are rigged — by incompetence.
The Social Democrats (SPÖ) said they’d declared the wrong candidate as the winner of a nail-biting party election over the weekend.
Instead of Hans Peter Doskozil, the populist governor of the eastern Burgenland region, leftist small-town mayor Andreas Babler will take charge of the country’s oldest party.
About 600 SPÖ delegates voted at an extraordinary party convention on Saturday. Doskozil celebrated what appeared to be a clear victory with 53 percent of the vote. In fact, Babler won with 53 percent to Doskozil’s 47 percent, according to the revised tally.
Exactly what led to the bizarre turn of events remained unclear as of late Monday. SPD election director Michaela Grubesa offered a confused explanation at a press conference, blaming a “technical error by a colleague with an Excel table” during the tabulation of the results.
The mistake was discovered during a recount on Monday, undertaken because one vote was unaccounted for in the original tally on Saturday.
“It’s important for me to stress that there were no mistakes during the election itself or in the work of the election committee,” said Grubesa, adding that she regretted not asking for a recount over the weekend to ensure there hadn’t been any mistakes.
Doskozil said he would accept the new result, even though it was a “difficult day.”
“This is the result of the party congress,” he said.
What’s less clear, however, is whether the election fiasco will thrust the party, long a pillar of Austrian democracy, into deeper turmoil. The party is currently polling second behind the far-right Freedom Party and SPÖ supporters had hoped the leadership vote would give the party a fresh impetus.
A years-long battle between Doskozil and the previous party leader, Pamela Rendi-Wagner, over the direction of the party and who should run it presaged the weekend election. Rendi-Wagner placed third in a membership vote last month and dropped out of the race, leading to the weekend dual at the party congress.
Most Austrians hadn’t even heard of Babler, a former machinist, until a few weeks ago. Nonetheless, his campaign as a plain-spoken man of the people appears to have resonated with the party base.
That said, he appeared to stumble in the final stretch after a 2020 podcast interview emerged in which he called the EU the “most aggressive foreign policy military alliance that has ever existed,” adding that the bloc was “worse than NATO.”
He also created confusion by declaring himself a Marxist in a TV interview and then insisting he isn’t a Marxist.
“I don’t understand the uproar,” Babler said. “I’m not doing anything other than talking about Marxism.”