By Stella Musulin
AUSTRIA goes to the polls on Sunday in a general election which is likely to be so close that no commentator is prepared to commit himself in print about the outcome.
The issues are confused by widespread irritation with the Government as such. But the Left is more nervous than the Right. It is on she defensive in the face of accusation that it is anti-Common Market and has been flirting too much with the satellite countries and because it has not been forgotten that Socialist ministers voted themselves large pensions last Christmas in unison with the Conservatives.
The Socialist Minister of the Interior also lost face as the result of a police strike last August and muddled handling of riots at Berndorf.
Since 1945, Austria has had a two-party coalition Government consisting of the People's Panty and the Socialists, plus a smaller group known as the Freedom Party.
Voters for the People's Party are by and large Catholics, comprising 85 per cent of the farmers and farm-workers, white collar employees, private industry and small tradesmen. The Socialists draw their votes to a large extent from among industrial manual and white-collar workers, particularly in nationalised industries, railway employees and others.
The Freedom Party—at the risk of over-generalisation — is supported by voters who are dissatisfied with the main parties and wish to end the coalition. They are ham pered by a top-high ex-Nazi membership and by lack of parliamentary traditions in a country where most people vote the way their fathers did before them. The going between the two main parties is very close: 79 Conservative (People's Party), 78 Socialist. 8 Freedom Party, but owing to election arithmetic rather more Socialist votes were polled at the last elections than are reflected in the parliamentary mandates.
The main issue is going to he: Can the Socialists hold on to their left wing? In case it should he imagined that the Austrian Socialists are much like the British Labour Party. this is not so. In spite of continual attempts by cesLain Socialist leaders to face the facts of modern life, high wages, almost nu unemployment and a widespread materialistic outlookthe Austrian Socialist philosophy is still basically Marxist. This means that although some Catholics vote Socialist. it is difficult to be a practising Catholic and a convinced Socialist. If we take a look at the Austrian Communists. what we sec is this: a small party with, at present, no representation in Parliament, but which has lately shown ominous signs of increased influence in local government elections. They have probably just about got back to where they were before the Hungarian Revolution in 1956 the postwar period during which they had two members in Parliament. This apparent increase has presented the Socialists with a problem: How do you modernise the party, going all the way with the modern working man with his increasingly middle-class aspirations. and at the same time hold on to your Marxist left wing, which has so much in common with the enemies of democratic freedom just across the frontier?
The Socialists are accusing the People's Party (who are struggling to associate Austria with the Common Market) of wanting to break the Coalition. But this is really a reflection of their fear of defection on their left wing. which would raise the Conservative majority in the country. The People's Party mainly fear apathy and a low poll. Cardinal Koenig has refrained from any attempt to influence the Catholic population in the way it should vote. He insists only that every man and woman should perform his democratic duty and go to the polls. and he has pointed out that he, and all the delegates to the Vatican Council. are not hesitating to come all the way from Rome for this purpose.