Hardly a Revolution – Alex Fanta

The Austrian province of Tirol has been ruled by the conservative ÖVP during the last 60 years. The elections last Sunday saw them lose their majority. The defeat was brought about by 67-year old party renegade Fritz Dinkhauser.

The Tyroleans have a tendency for dynasties. The current Governor Herwig van Staa is no less than the son-in-law of his legendary predecessor Eduard Wallnöfer, who ruled Tirol for 24 years until 1987. His successors shared his privilege of ruling by strong conservative majorities in the legislative. The Tyroleans’ ardent catholicism, Viennese tend to quip, keeps them from looking at the ballot – following the motto ‘One god, One party’. The elections of Sunday therefore were quite a revolution – from the outside. Crucial to the conservatives’ defeat was party dissident Fritz Dinkhauser, who competed as an independent, winning a fifth of seats in the regional parliament. His candidacy was not so much a general disagreement over policy but a personal rivalry with governor Herwig van Staa. Even his enemies admit trade union leader Dinkhauser has a strong will.

What made Mr. Dinkhauser’s appeal so popular with the population, though, is spite. Those voters who naturally gravitate to the Conservatives, were dissatisfied with the perceived pork-barreling within the ÖVP. The farmers, traditionally the strongest group within the party, are seen by many, even party loyalists, as too influential. One third of Tyrolean soil is owned by conservative-dominated agricultural cooperatives. Strong laws against foreign (non-Tyrolean, non-farming) land ownership even prevented ex-Minister of Finance Karl-Heinz Grasser from buy property there. Many people are dissatisfied and want the party to change, not the actual government.

They might get there way. Fritz Dinkhauser indicated even beforehand that he might be interested in what is dubbed a ‘conservative-conservative’ coalition. This in fact would reunite his faction with the ÖVP, and, ironically, make it stronger than ever. His only condition – to see Governor Van Staa removed from office, and become a caliph instead of The Caliph.

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