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Strong Disagreements in Cabinet over Refugee Vote
Austrur’s European Council vote against the Refugee Protection Act has exposed “strong disagreements” in the Cabinet according to one source within the government. The bill’s provisions would ensure that refugees receive protections in EU member states, and would prevent discrimination against refugees within provisions of member states’ domestic laws. The vote taken at the European Council by Klemen Horvat, a member of the Sozialdemokratische Union (SDU), seemingly based on advice given by his SDU colleagues, has been met with criticism from the Government’s junior partner as well as from members within the SDU itself.
Speaking to reporters in Östheim, NFP Party Leader Rebekka Höfler stated that the vote was a “betrayal of the fundamental right to dignity and peace” and called the move “cynical and designed to win votes”. Höfler reaffirmed the NFP’s commitment to supporting refugees and stated that if an NFP member had been European Councilor, they would have proudly and quickly voted in favor of the Refugee Protection Act. The strength of Höfler’s words along with similar statements from other NFP MPs have exposed a key fracture point within the government, as the NFP (Naturschutz und Frieden Partei) is the junior partner within the government. While an NFP spokesman did confirm later in the day that the Coalition was in no danger of collapsing, it is likely that the SDU and Chancellor Leitz will be keen to not aggravate their partners any further in the remaining months ahead of the General Election and many SDU MPs have signed on their support for an NFP resolution “reaffirming the rights of refugees and committing the government to protect their dignity and lives”.
Leitz will also have to deal with a rebellion within his own party from left-wing MPs who are said to be quite displeased with the Chancellor’s move. Günther Ebner, a prominent left-wing critic of the Chancellor, made an appearance on TV3 in which he stated that the Chancellor’s move was “made with both eyes on upcoming state elections and not a thought to the party’s ideals or its manifesto”. While Leitz’s position as Chancellor and leader of the SDU is secure, having been confirmed in the Party Congress in December, Ebner and his allies can make life difficult for several of the Chancellor’s close allies in Parliament as they go through candidate selection in their constituencies and state-lists. However, Ebner’s references to upcoming state elections in April, in which four states will go to the polls, are but an explicit mention of what was likely on the Chancellor’s mind. The SDU finds itself defending government in two of the four states, including in Matthiasburg where the three-term SDU government faces a significant challenge from the right. Leitz’s move was likely an attempt to head-off a recent right-wing surge in polling which has shown the SDU’s comfortable majority eroding to extremely competitive levels. This move to secure the center for the SDU in the face of strong rhetoric from the right has risks in alienating the party’s traditional urban base. Whether this will succeed or not will be seen in a few short weeks, as campaigning is already underway in the four states.
Refugee Protection Act debacle hits SDU on campaign trail
With just eleven days left on the campaign trail, the rhetoric has heated up in the races for state legislative majorities in the four states due for a vote on April 14. The Chancellor’s SDU finds itself increasingly on the defensive in the wake of several setbacks and defeats, both at home and abroad. In addition to traditionally important issues such as the economy and security, the Refugee Protection Act has taken center stage in campaigns across the nation, with strong language being exchanged over the text from both the left and the right. The Chancellor’s decision to have Austrur’s European Councillor vote against the Act has been met with sharp criticism from the left-wing of his own party and the NFP, and the subsequent failure to block the Act has been met with criticism from the main opposition – the BDA.
In the largest state headed to the polls on April 14, Matthiasburg, the three-term SDU majority government has seen the Refugee Protection Act debacle lead to a further deterioration in its polling position – already weakened by nine years of government. Juliana Müller, the state Premier, has asked for increased help from the national SDU which is expected to increase the number of party workers and activists knocking on doors and participating in the party’s field operation. Keen to avoid the missteps of her national colleagues, Müller has committed the state party to upholding the new obligations set forth by the Refugee Protection Act and has confirmed that the state cabinet was “unified in its support”. Opposition leader Karl Baumann (BDA) said that the move “stinks of political opportunism as [the Premier] desperately tries to forge unity in a government that has little, in the face of a failing national government”. Baumann, who would be the first BDA Premier since 2009, has positioned himself in opposition to the Refugee Protection Act and hopes to capitalize on the weakness of the national government and the splintering of the left-wing vote. The BDA is certain to gain seats from their poor result three years ago in Matthiasburg, but whether they can achieve majority status in their own right remains uncertain in this reflexive left-of-center state. What is all but certain, however, is that the SDU will not be able to form a majority government come April 15th, with a coalition between the SDU and the NFP still mathematically possible in polling.