KPÖ councilor wins local elections – and shocks no one.
Catherine Kahlwett from Vienna
Elk Kahr may have been surprised by her success: a city council member from the Austrian Communist Party (KPÖ) won 29 percent of the vote in Graz, thus becoming the city’s most powerful force. Now she wants to see if a coalition will be formed with the Greens (which received more than 16% of the vote) and the SPÖ (which received almost 10%).
A left-wing coalition in a city formerly run by a governor? Mayor Siegfried Nagl (ÖVP) resigned Sunday night after local elections and about 26 percent – with a 12 percentage point loss – are seriously disappointed. A communist as mayor of Styria? In Graz, this is not considered particularly strange.
The result of the KPÖ honorary election was surprising. Still, it’s no surprise that the 59-year-old communist stands a chance in the eyes of many voters, including middle-class voters. Traditionally strong in Graz, the KPÖ is strong. But in the eyes of the electorate, this has less ideological reasons than social and political ones.
Acting and assistant
Like her predecessor Ernst Kaltenegger, who was also well known in the city, Kahr does much of the essential work, she is considered a caring and helpful provider. As a member of the city council, she has always been particularly committed to renters and housing issues. One day, when the citizens of Graz called about a leaking heating system or a disgruntled owner, Kaltenegger was standing at the door the next day with a pickup truck and a wrench. He founded Mietnotruf and helped provide legal advice to tenants. Elke Kehr is also known in the city as a politician who works specifically for her constituents. She donates a portion of her earnings and it’s available day and night.
ÖVP has never been comfortable with its popularity. Mayor Nagl dismissed KPÖ housing management and its city councilor Kahr after the last election and accused them of difficult transportation management. But since Nagl campaigned for a subway system—which was very controversial in the city—and several new construction projects, transportation benefited the Communists more than it hurt them. Nagl’s nickname, “Beton-Sigi,” speaks volumes.
But not only did KPÖ do very well in the university town local elections, the Greens also got nearly 7 percentage points. The FPÖ party under its leading candidate Mario Eustachio tried it with an xenophobic election campaign and immigrant messages like “Graz is not your home” – and was punished for it. This is not well received in a city with a lot of young people that has grown exponentially in recent years thanks to the new residents.
Elk Kahr, the supposed new mayor of the city of 300,000, has big plans. On Monday, she announced that she wanted to accept the challenge and be sentenced to five years. She joined KPÖ in 1983 and declares under the slogan “Don’t forget anyone!”. She attributes her electoral success, among other things, to her commitment to what in Austria means “affordable living”.