VIENNA (AP) — Austrians voted overwhelmingly Sunday to retain their conscript army, with preliminary results showing around 60 percent rejecting the proposed shift to a professional force.
The wide margin of victory came as a surprise, since pre-election surveys had that side ahead by only a few percentage points.
The results, published by the Interior Ministry, had 59.8 percent backing the present system and 40.2 percent voting to change it. Overall turnout was 49 percent. Absentee votes were still to be tallied but were not expected to change the outcome.
Participation was highest in rural areas and lowest in Vienna, the capital, according to polling organizations.
More than 54 percent of the Viennese voted to have a professional armed force. But with conscripts frequently recruited to help prevent natural catastrophes — or clean up afterward — rural voters in this Alpine nation clearly felt that a professional army would not be filling sandbags to prevent flooding or shoveling out basements after mudslides.
They also heeded warnings that changing the system would hit Austria's social sector, which depends on conscientious objectors to serve as ambulance drivers, attendants for the elderly and in other low-paid community jobs.