The Republic of Austria is a constitutional democracy with a federal parliamentary form of government. Each of the nine province is administered by it own government, headed by a governor elected by the provincial legislature. Members to these legislatures are elected according to the same principles, as those to the Federal Parliament and their numbers are determined in accordance with the population of each province. Each province also has the right to protest to the Constitutional Court if it believes that any federal legislation encroaches on its authority.
Constitution and legal system: The Federal Constitution was passed by the Constituent National Assembly on October 1, 1920 and was amended on December 7, 1929 with a view to affording more power to the President. The Constitution is the supreme source of law in Austria; lower level legislation includes statutes, regulations, international agreements and announcements. The Austrian legal system is based on the civil law tradition.
The legislative power of the Federation is exercised by the House of Representatives (Nationalrat) jointly with the Senate (Bundesrat).
Legislative authority is concentrated in the Nationalrat, which 183 members are elected for a four-year term in a three-tiered system, based on proportional representation. The right to vote can be exercised by anyone who has completed his or her 18th year before the 1st of January of the election year while candidates are eligible for election if they have completed their 19th year before the 1st January of the election year. Voting is compulsory in the provinces, which have enacted legislation to this effect. The Nationalrat may dissolve itself by a simple majority vote and the President on the recommendation of the Chancellor may dissolve it.
The delegates of the Bundesrat are sent by the legislatures of the individual provinces. The Bundesrat currently comprises 64 members. The number of delegates sent by each province depends on the size of its population from a maximum of 12 to a minimum of 3 delegates. At least one seat must go to the party having the second largest number of seats in the province legislature. They are elected by the legislatures for four- to six-year terms. The Bundesrat only review legislation passed by the Nationalrat and can delay but not veto its enactment.
Legislative process: Draft legislation is submitted to the Nationalrat either in the form of a motion by its members or as a Federal Government bill. Either 100,000 voters or one sixth of the voters in three States can also initiate legislation. Once approved by the Nationalrat, the draft law goes to the Bundesrat, which veto can be overridden by the Nationalrat. The enactment is then promulgated. Draft acts can also be voted by referendum should a majority of the Nationalrat so decide.
The highest executive authorities are the Federal President, the Federal Ministers, the Secretaries of State and the members of the State Governments.
The President is elected by universal suffrage on the basis of an equal, direct, secret and personal ballot. If there is only one candidate, the election takes place by way of referendum. Voting in the election is compulsory in provinces, which have enacted legislation to this effect. The President holds office for six years. Re-election for a consecutive term of office is admissible once only. In the event of any violation of the Constitution, the Federal President can be deposed by referendum upon the request of the Federal Assembly (House of representatives + Senate) before his term of office expires. Rejection of the deposition by referendum entails the dissolution of the House of Representatives. The President convenes and concludes parliamentary sessions and under certain conditions can dissolve Parliament. However, no president has dissolved Parliament in the Second Republic. The president requests a party leader, usually the leader of the strongest party, to form a government. Upon the recommendation of the Chancellor, the president also appoints cabinet ministers. No one can become a member of the government without the approval of the president.
The Federal Government is headed by the Chancellor, who, along with the Vice Chancellor and the cabinet ministers, conducts all government affairs, which are not the responsibility of the President. Only the federal ministers have a vote in the Federal Government. Votes have to be unanimous. One of the Federal Government's tasks is to approve draft legislation, which is then submitted to Parliament as government bills.
Judicial system: The highest courts of Austria's judiciary are the Constitutional Court, the Administrative Court and the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court is the final court of appeal for civil and criminal proceedings. The Administrative Court deals with cases of alleged legal offences in connection with decisions taken by the administrative authorities. The Constitutional Court deals with proprietary claims lodged against the federal, state, regional or municipal authorities when these claims cannot be dealt with by normal legal channels or by an administrative authority. The Constitutional Court also passes verdict in the case of disputed responsibilities between: courts of law and administrative authorities; the Administrative Court and any other court of law, notably between the Administrative Court and the Constitutional Court itself, or between the regular courts of law and other courts; between the federal states, and between a federal state and the federal authorities. At the instigation of the Federal Government or a State Government, the Constitutional Court also reaches a finding on whether a legislative or executive act falls within the purview of the federal or the state authorities. Cases in the Administrative and Supreme Courts concerning constitutional issues can be appealed to the Constitutional Court. The president appoints Justices of the three courts for specific terms.
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