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Austrians Eagerly Await Successor to Waldheim, Whoever It Will Be

May 4, 1992
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

When 4.7 million Austrians cast their ballots last week for president, it was an expression of overwhelming relief that Kurt Waldheim will soon be leaving Hofburg Castle, the presidential mansion.

The April 26 election failed to give any candidate a clear mandate. But there is little doubt that Austrians are impatient for a new president to take office, whoever that might turn out to be.

Waldheim’s departure will likely bring an end to the country’s six years of diplomatic isolation, which began when his Nazi past was exposed during his successful run for president in 1986.

The former two-term U.N. secretary-general, who had long concealed his wartime service, decided not to run for re-election to the largely ceremonial office, which many here praised as a prudent move.

With a chief of state other than Waldheim, Vienna’s chances for admission to the European Community will be greatly improved when negotiations begin early next year.

Four candidates representing the full political spectrum contested the April 26 election. Since none received over 50 percent of the vote, a runoff election between the two front-runners has been scheduled for May 24.

It will pit 53-year-old Social Democrat Rudolph Streicher, a former minister of transportation, against the Christian conservative People’s Party candidate, Thomas Klestil, 59, who is dean of the Austrian diplomatic corps and a former ambassador to the United States.

Streicher won 40.7 percent of the vote to Klestil’s 37.2 percent.


Regardless of which of them is eventually victorious, Israel is expected to restore its relations with Austria to the ambassadorial level, which it downgraded when Waldheim took office.

Israel refused to send an envoy to Vienna who would have to present his credentials to Waldheim, a former intelligence officer in a German army unit accused of atrocities in the Balkan countries and of deporting Greek Jews.

For the past six years, Israel had only a charge d’affaires in Vienna, and a similarly ranked Austrian diplomat was posted to Tel Aviv.

Well-informed sources here said Streicher would probably visit Israel soon after his election, if he wins.

Klestil, whose chances are also good, had friendly contacts with Israeli diplomats when he was posted to Washington.

A fairness agreement signed by the candidates resulted in a clean, if dull, campaign, which may change in the weeks before the runoff.

There was no hint of anti-Semitism, such as surfaced in the 1986 campaign when Jewish groups exposed Waldheim.

The candidates eliminated last week are Heide Schmidt of the right-wing Freedom Party, who won 16.4 percent of the Green alternative party, with 5.7 percent.

Except for Jungk, who survived the Holocaust in Switzerland, none of the candidates is of the World War II generation and all are without taint.

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