Prof. Dr. Melanie Sully

Parties, Quotas, Elections: "Wiener Zeitung" interview with Dr Melanie Sully

Interview in the respected Austrian "Wiener Zeitung" 29.8. 2014 on how to promote political participation following a furore in the Social Democratic Party regarding the candidate selection process. Deputy Editor in Chief, Walter Hämmerle spoke with Prof Melanie Sully.

Austria has a List system for elections whereby the parties draw up selected candidates in order and some like the Social Democratic Party (SPÖ) have voluntary quotas to promote women (in this instance 40%). A recent controversy revolved around a decision taken by the party in the state of Upper Austria which strictly kept to the legal requirement that following a vacancy the next on the list a man, should go to parliament. A female however, noted for views often at variance with the party line, called for the 40% party rule to be enacted which would have meant her male colleague should renounce his position on the list. Apparently a vote took place and the decision was made in favour of a male, a trade unionist. This enraged the womens' movement of the party and also the youth who claimed the party was ignoring its own goals. Quotas in Austria are controversial and whilst parties like the SPÖ have them in statutes, putting them into practice it seems is another matter. The party will now set up a working group to see what can be done to avoid such an embarrassment in the future. The womens movement argue no such group is necessary, the party should just follow the by-laws in practice. The discussion is particularly acute since the overall percentage of womens' representation in the lower House of the Austrian parliament drops to around the 30% mark, the critical mass that international and European best practices cite as the minimum for women to have a meaningful and long lasting impact in the decision-making process. The debate also comes as the European Commission seems to have trouble finding its own quota for appointments.

Here the Austrian quality "Wiener Zeitung" asked Dr Melanie Sully whether gender, transgender and so on has all gone too far and has little significance for the average "man" or "woman" "on the street".

Dr Sully recalled international commitments to which Austria has also signed up on promoting female participation in politics as the underrepresented gender and argued for the inclusion of all sections of society in politics to combat the current disaffection noticeable in many countries. She maintains it is a democratic culture of representation which should be encouraged with more transparency on candidate selection lists and what is required or expected by the parties of their own deputies in parliamentary bodies.

Information on women MPs in Austria can be found on the website of the Austrian Parliament giving numbers also according to party groups