The 1945 Election and Consolidation of the Austrian Government

Austria Table of Contents

The first national election since 1930 was held on November 25, 1945. Nazi Party members were barred from participation. This exclusion sharply limited electoral participation by the nationalist camp, and no party was formed to represent its viewpoint. The ÍVP was thus able to monopolize the entire antileft vote. Voters gave overwhelming support to the two democratic parties: the ÍVP received nearly 50 percent of the vote and eighty-five seats in the Nationalrat, and the SPÍ received 45 percent of the vote and seventy-six seats. The KPÍ received only 5 percent--well below its anticipated 25 percent--and four seats.

Although the ÍVP thus held an absolute majority in parliament, the government, headed by Chancellor Leopold Figl of the ÍVP, preserved the three-party coalition. The distribution of cabinet seats was adjusted, however, with the KPÍ receiving only a specially created and unimportant Ministry for Electrification. In December parliament elected Renner to the largely ceremonial position of president of the republic. With the Austrian government clearly evolving along democratic lines, the Western Allies grew more supportive, and the Soviet Union grew increasingly hostile.

In 1946, however, the Soviet Union agreed to changes in the Four Power Control Agreement that governed the relationship between the Four Powers and the Austrian government, thus weakening their influence. Originally, Austrian legislation had to be unanimously approved by the Allied Council, effectively giving each of the Allies veto-power. In light of the Austrian government's democratic bent, the Western Allies favored allowing laws passed by the government to take effect unless the Allied Council unanimously rejected them. Although the Soviet Union was generally opposed to surrendering its veto power, it hoped to extract an agreement from the Austrians that would give the Soviet Union effective control over Austrian petroleum resources and thus did not want the other Allies to be able to veto any eventual agreement. In June 1946, the Allied powers agreed to a compromise. Agreements between one of the occupying powers and Austria would not be subject to a veto. "Constitutional laws" would require the approval of the Allied Council and thus remain subject to vetoes by the individual Allies, but all other laws would take effect in thirty-one days unless rejected by the council.

The Soviet Union only realized the implications of the new Control Agreement when a dispute arose over German assets in Austria. In early July 1946, the Soviet Union confiscated German assets in its occupation zone as war reparations--mines, industrial facilities, agricultural land, and the entire Austrian oil production industry. To protect the Austrian economy from such Soviet seizures, the Austrian government nationalized German assets. The Soviet Union attempted to veto the nationalization law but was rebuffed by the other Allies, who made it clear that the Austrian government had wide latitude in determining whether a particular law was a constitutional law or not. Although the Soviet Union was able to prevent implementation of the nationalization law in its occupation zone, the 1946 Control Agreement significantly enhanced the power of the Austrian government. By 1953 more than 550 laws had been implemented over the objection of the Soviet Union.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress