The city council in Austria’s second-largest city, Graz, has elected a new mayor. Communist Party member Elke Kahr has become the first Communist leader of a major city in the country.
The 60-year-old politician, who has been working in the municipal government for more than 15 years and previously served as vice mayor of Graz, was elected as the new city leader on Wednesday. A member of the Austrian Communist Party (KPÖ, Kommunistische Partei Österreichs) for almost 30 years, she won the election with 28 of 46 votes. Kahr succeeded the previous long-standing mayor Siegfried Nagl of the center-right, liberal-conservative People’s Party.
“Who would have thought that the daughter of a locksmith, a Communist, would become mayor,” she said in her first speech following the vote.
Having acknowledged a number of issues to deal with in the city, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic, the new mayor highlighted a housing policy, pledging to put a stop to profit-driven construction in Ganz.
The Communists have also already formed a coalition with the Greens and the Social Democratic Party (SPÖ), and another precedent in European city governance was made – two women serving as mayor and deputy. Green leader Judith Schwentner was chosen as Graz’s vice mayor, with the new governing coalition saying they would support not only social, but also environmental changes, aiming to improve living standards especially for low-income groups. Providing a bicycle for every child in the city from the municipality is in their program.
However, not everyone in the local government is happy with the new Communist rule. A member of the right-wing Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ), Alexis Pascuttini, described the choice as “unpleasant,” having accused the Graz Communists of empty catchphrases in their program and refusing to participate in what he described as “left-wing nonsense.” Kahr herself has been exposed to strong pressure to justify her party, being repeatedly asked about her position on “the crimes of communist parties around the world since 1917,” according to Austrian media.
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