Freedom in the World
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The far-right Freedom Party made significant gains in the February 2009 provincial elections, largely at the expense of the Social Democratic Party of Austria (SPO). Austria’s police were criticized for failing to act on warnings of expected violence following the fatal shooting of a Sikh leader in an Austrian mosque in May. Meanwhile, parliament adopted legislation in December permitting civil partnerships for same-sex couples.
Members of the Hapsburg family, which ruled the Austro-Hungarian Empire until 1918, applied to the country’s Constitutional Court in September for an end to a 90-year ban prohibiting them from running for Austria’s largely ceremonial presidency. In December, the Constitutional Court ruled that the Hapsburgs could proceed with an appeal only after a family member had applied as a candidate and been formally rejected.
Austria is an electoral democracy. The lower house of the Federal Assembly, the Nationalrat (National Council), has 183 members chosen through proportional representation at the district, state, and federal levels. Members serve five-year terms, extended from four in 2008. The chancellor, appointed by the president, needs the support of the legislature to govern. The 62 members of the upper house, the Bundesrat (Federal Council), are chosen by state legislatures. In 2008 the voting age was lowered to 16.
In December 2009, parliament adopted legislation permitting civil partnerships for same-sex couples. The law, which enters into effect in January 2010, provides them with equal rights to pensions and alimony and allows them to take each other’s names, but does not provide them with the same adoption rights as married couples.