President of Austria
Overview
 
The President of Austria (German
German language
German is a West Germanic language, related to and classified alongside English and Dutch. With an estimated 90 – 98 million native speakers, German is one of the world's major languages and is the most widely-spoken first language in the European Union....

: Österreichischer Bundespräsident, literally "Austrian Federal President") is the federal
Federation
A federation , also known as a federal state, is a type of sovereign state characterized by a union of partially self-governing states or regions united by a central government...

 head of state
Head of State
A head of state is the individual that serves as the chief public representative of a monarchy, republic, federation, commonwealth or other kind of state. His or her role generally includes legitimizing the state and exercising the political powers, functions, and duties granted to the head of...

 of Austria
Austria
Austria , officially the Republic of Austria , is a landlocked country of roughly 8.4 million people in Central Europe. It is bordered by the Czech Republic and Germany to the north, Slovakia and Hungary to the east, Slovenia and Italy to the south, and Switzerland and Liechtenstein to the...

. Though theoretically entrusted with great power by the constitution, in practice the President acts, for the most part, merely as a ceremonial figurehead
Figurehead
A figurehead is a carved wooden decoration found at the prow of ships largely made between the 16th and 19th century.-History:Although earlier ships had often had some form of bow ornamentation A figurehead is a carved wooden decoration found at the prow of ships largely made between the 16th and...

. The President of Austria is directly elected by universal adult suffrage once in every six years. His or her offices are located in the Leopoldine Wing of the Hofburg Imperial Palace
Hofburg Imperial Palace
Hofburg Palace is a palace located in Vienna, Austria, that has housed some of the most powerful people in Austrian history, including the Habsburg dynasty, rulers of the Austro-Hungarian empire. It currently serves as the official residence of the President of Austria...

, in Vienna
Vienna
Vienna is the capital and largest city of the Republic of Austria and one of the nine states of Austria. Vienna is Austria's primary city, with a population of about 1.723 million , and is by far the largest city in Austria, as well as its cultural, economic, and political centre...

.

Many former Presidents have gained tremendous popularity while in office, and no incumbent has ever lost a bid for re-election.
Encyclopedia
The President of Austria (German
German language
German is a West Germanic language, related to and classified alongside English and Dutch. With an estimated 90 – 98 million native speakers, German is one of the world's major languages and is the most widely-spoken first language in the European Union....

: Österreichischer Bundespräsident, literally "Austrian Federal President") is the federal
Federation
A federation , also known as a federal state, is a type of sovereign state characterized by a union of partially self-governing states or regions united by a central government...

 head of state
Head of State
A head of state is the individual that serves as the chief public representative of a monarchy, republic, federation, commonwealth or other kind of state. His or her role generally includes legitimizing the state and exercising the political powers, functions, and duties granted to the head of...

 of Austria
Austria
Austria , officially the Republic of Austria , is a landlocked country of roughly 8.4 million people in Central Europe. It is bordered by the Czech Republic and Germany to the north, Slovakia and Hungary to the east, Slovenia and Italy to the south, and Switzerland and Liechtenstein to the...

. Though theoretically entrusted with great power by the constitution, in practice the President acts, for the most part, merely as a ceremonial figurehead
Figurehead
A figurehead is a carved wooden decoration found at the prow of ships largely made between the 16th and 19th century.-History:Although earlier ships had often had some form of bow ornamentation A figurehead is a carved wooden decoration found at the prow of ships largely made between the 16th and...

. The President of Austria is directly elected by universal adult suffrage once in every six years. His or her offices are located in the Leopoldine Wing of the Hofburg Imperial Palace
Hofburg Imperial Palace
Hofburg Palace is a palace located in Vienna, Austria, that has housed some of the most powerful people in Austrian history, including the Habsburg dynasty, rulers of the Austro-Hungarian empire. It currently serves as the official residence of the President of Austria...

, in Vienna
Vienna
Vienna is the capital and largest city of the Republic of Austria and one of the nine states of Austria. Vienna is Austria's primary city, with a population of about 1.723 million , and is by far the largest city in Austria, as well as its cultural, economic, and political centre...

.

Many former Presidents have gained tremendous popularity while in office, and no incumbent has ever lost a bid for re-election. Since 2004 the office has been occupied by Heinz Fischer
Heinz Fischer
Heinz Fischer GColIH is the President of Austria. He took office on 8 July 2004 and was re-elected for a second and last term on 25 April 2010. Before he took office, Fischer was a member of the Social Democratic Party of Austria...

.

History of the office

Prior to the collapse of the multinational Austro-Hungarian
Austria-Hungary
Austria-Hungary , more formally known as the Kingdoms and Lands Represented in the Imperial Council and the Lands of the Holy Hungarian Crown of Saint Stephen, was a constitutional monarchic union between the crowns of the Austrian Empire and the Kingdom of Hungary in...

 empire
Empire
The term empire derives from the Latin imperium . Politically, an empire is a geographically extensive group of states and peoples united and ruled either by a monarch or an oligarchy....

 towards the end of World War I
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

, what now is the Republic of Austria had been part of a monarchy
Monarchy
A monarchy is a form of government in which the office of head of state is usually held until death or abdication and is often hereditary and includes a royal house. In some cases, the monarch is elected...

 with an emperor
Emperor
An emperor is a monarch, usually the sovereign ruler of an empire or another type of imperial realm. Empress, the female equivalent, may indicate an emperor's wife or a woman who rules in her own right...

 as its head of state and chief executive. The empire noticeably began to fracture in late 1917 and manifestly disintegrated into a number of independent nation states over the course of the following year. Effective 21 October 1918, the Imperial Council parliamentarians representing the empire's ethnically German provinces formed a Provisional National Assembly for their paralyzed rump state and appointed veteran party leader Karl Seitz
Karl Seitz
Karl Seitz was an Austrian politician and the first President of Austria.Karl Seitz was born in Vienna, then capital of the Austro-Hungarian empire, as the son of a struggling small-time coal trader. Following the premature death of his father in 1875, the family was thrown into abject poverty,...

 as one of their three largely coequal chairmen (21 October 1918 - 16 February 1919). As chairman, he also became a member (ex officio) of the Austrian State Council (Deutschösterreichischer Staatsrat). On 12 November 1918, the State Council collectively assumed the functions of head of state according to a resolution of the National Assembly. Following the formal refusal of Emperor
Emperor of Austria
The Emperor of Austria was a hereditary imperial title and position proclaimed in 1804 by the Holy Roman Emperor Francis II, a member of the House of Habsburg-Lorraine, and continually held by him and his heirs until the last emperor relinquished power in 1918. The emperors retained the title of...

 Karl I to exercise highest state authority (it was not an abdication: "Ich verzichte auf jeden Anteil an den Staatsgeschäften. Gleichzeitig enthebe Ich Meine österreichische Regierung ihres Amtes.") on 11 November, parliament proclaimed the Republic of German Austria on 12 November. The assembly presidents (Seitz, Franz Dinghofer and Johann Nepomuk Hauser) continued to serve as acting heads of state until 4 March 1919, when the National Constituent Assembly collectively assumed these functions. Anton David (4 March 1919 - 5 March 1919) and Seitz (5 March 1919 - 10 November 1920) were the presidents of the National Constituent Assembly.

Karl Seitz
Karl Seitz
Karl Seitz was an Austrian politician and the first President of Austria.Karl Seitz was born in Vienna, then capital of the Austro-Hungarian empire, as the son of a struggling small-time coal trader. Following the premature death of his father in 1875, the family was thrown into abject poverty,...

 performed the duties of head of state according to a law of 1 October 1920, which transferred these duties to the "former president of the National Constituent Assembly" for the period from 10 November 1920, to the day of swearing-in of the first Federal President (9 December 1920). Since Austria had not finalized its decision to structure itself as a federation
Federation
A federation , also known as a federal state, is a type of sovereign state characterized by a union of partially self-governing states or regions united by a central government...

 prior to the formal implementation of the definitive Constitution of Austria
Constitution of Austria
The Constitution of Austria is the body of all constitutional law of the Republic of Austria on the federal level. It is split up over many different acts...

 on 1 October 1920, referring to Seitz as Federal President would have been inaccurate. Austria's first Bundespräsident proper thus was Michael Hainisch, Karl Seitz' immediate successor. In a related note, many popular sources quote some more or less random date between October 1918 and March 1919 as the beginning of Seitz' tenure. While most of them are merely misleading, others are plainly wrong: even though Seitz was appointed President of the Provisional National Assembly in October 1918, it would have been impossible for him to be President of Austria as of that month, the republic not even having been proclaimed by then.

The constitution originally defined Austria to be a prototypical parliamentary
Parliamentary system
A parliamentary system is a system of government in which the ministers of the executive branch get their democratic legitimacy from the legislature and are accountable to that body, such that the executive and legislative branches are intertwined....

 republic assigning executive as well as legislative almost entirely to the parliament. The cabinet was appointed by the National Council
National Council of Austria
The National Council is one of the two houses of the Austrian parliament. According to the constitution, the National Council and the complementary Federal Council are peers...

 rather than the president, who in turn was elected by the Federal Assembly
Federal Assembly of Austria
The Federal Assembly is the name given to a formal joint session of the two houses of the Austrian federal parliament, the National Council and the Federal Council....

 rather than the people. The president's term of office was four rather than six years. The president was answerable to the Federal Assembly and, in particular, had no authority to dissolve the National Council. Not even having much actual influence on the appointment of Constitutional Court justices, the President of Austria all in all had to be content with almost exclusively ceremonial duties. It was under this constitutional framework that Michael Hainisch
Michael Hainisch
Michael Hainisch was an Austrian politician, and the second President of Austria, after the fall of the monarchy at the end of World War I. He did not belong to any party and was an independent candidate...

 and Wilhelm Miklas
Wilhelm Miklas
Wilhelm Miklas was an Austrian politician who served as the third President of Austria, from 1928 until its annexation by Nazi Germany in the Anschluss 1938.-Early life:...

 assumed office on 9 December 1920 and 10 December 1928, respectively.

The parliamentary system prescribed by the constitution was highly unpopular, however, with the authoritarianist
Authoritarianism
Authoritarianism is a form of social organization characterized by submission to authority. It is usually opposed to individualism and democracy...

 Heimwehr
Heimwehr
The Heimwehr or sometimes Heimatschutz were a Nationalist, initially paramilitary group operating within Austria during the 1920s and 1930s; they were similar in methods, organisation, and ideology to Germany's Freikorps...

 movement evolving during the 1920s. The Heimwehr was in favor of a system granting more powers to the head of state and eventually daunted the political establishment into enacting an amendment which did precisely that. From 7 December 1929 on, the constitution arranged for the office of the President of Austria to wield the sweeping executive and legislative authority it formally still has. It also called for the office to be filled by popular vote for a term of six years. Before any popular election actually took place, however, a coalition of Heimwehr movement and Christian Social Party
Christian Social Party
For other parties of the same name, see Christian Social PartyThe Christian Social Party was an Austrian conservative political party from 1893 to 1933 and is a predecessor of the contemporary Austrian People's Party.- Foundation :...

 tore down Austrian parliamentarism altogether, formally annulling the constitution on 1 May 1934. Though Austria now was a dictatorship
Dictatorship
A dictatorship is defined as an autocratic form of government in which the government is ruled by an individual, the dictator. It has three possible meanings:...

 in all but name, power was concentrated in the hands of the chancellor, not those of the president. Wilhelm Miklas was back to effectively being powerless but agreed to act as a fig leaf of institutional continuity anyway. He technically remained in office until 13 March 1938, the day Austria was annexed by Nazi Germany
Nazi Germany
Nazi Germany , also known as the Third Reich , but officially called German Reich from 1933 to 1943 and Greater German Reich from 26 June 1943 onward, is the name commonly used to refer to the state of Germany from 1933 to 1945, when it was a totalitarian dictatorship ruled by...

 and thus lost sovereignty.

When Austria re-established itself as an independent nation on 27 April 1945, the party leaders forming the provisional government decided not to frame a new constitution, reverting instead to that of 1920, as amended in 1929. Even though this revision was still somewhat controversial at that point, it was part of Austria's most recent constitutional framework, giving it at least some much-needed form of democratic legitimacy, and the party chairs were afraid that lengthy discussion might provoke the Red Army
Soviet Army
The Soviet Army is the name given to the main part of the Armed Forces of the Soviet Union between 1946 and 1992. Previously, it had been known as the Red Army. Informally, Армия referred to all the MOD armed forces, except, in some cases, the Soviet Navy.This article covers the Soviet Ground...

 then in control of Vienna
Vienna
Vienna is the capital and largest city of the Republic of Austria and one of the nine states of Austria. Vienna is Austria's primary city, with a population of about 1.723 million , and is by far the largest city in Austria, as well as its cultural, economic, and political centre...

 to barge in. The constitution thus reenacted effective 1 May therefore still included the provision calling for a president elected by popular vote. Following the November 1945 National Council elections, however, the National Assembly temporarily suspended this provision and installed Karl Renner
Karl Renner
Karl Renner was an Austrian politician. He was born in Untertannowitz in the Austro-Hungarian Empire and died in Vienna...

 as the President of Austria as of 20 December. The suspension in question seems to have been motivated mainly by lack of cash: no attempt was ever made to prolong it, and the benign septuagenarian Renner had been the universally respected provisional head of state anyway. Starting with Renner's successor Theodor Körner
Theodor Körner
----Theodor Körner, Edler von Siegringen served as the fifth President of Austria, between 1951 and 1957.- Life :...

, Presidents of Austria have in fact been elected by the people.

Election

The President of Austria is elected by popular vote for a term of six years and is limited to two consecutive terms of office. Voting is open to all people entitled to vote in general parliamentary elections, which in practice means that suffrage is universal for all Austrian citizens over the age of sixteen that have not been convicted of a jail term of more than one year of imprisonment. (Even so, they regain the right to vote six months after their release from prison.)

With the exception of members of any ruling or formerly ruling dynastic houses (a measure of precaution against monarchist
Monarchism
Monarchism is the advocacy of the establishment, preservation, or restoration of a monarchy as a form of government in a nation. A monarchist is an individual who supports this form of government out of principle, independent from the person, the Monarch.In this system, the Monarch may be the...

 subversion, and primarily aimed at members of the House of Habsburg
Habsburg
The House of Habsburg , also found as Hapsburg, and also known as House of Austria is one of the most important royal houses of Europe and is best known for being an origin of all of the formally elected Holy Roman Emperors between 1438 and 1740, as well as rulers of the Austrian Empire and...

), anyone entitled to vote in elections to the National Council who is at least 35 years of age is eligible for the office of president.

The President is elected under the Two Round system
Two-round system
The two-round system is a voting system used to elect a single winner where the voter casts a single vote for their chosen candidate...

. This means that if no candidate receives an absolute majority (i.e. 50% plus one vote) of votes cast in the first round, then a second ballot occurs in which only those two candidates who received the greatest number of votes in the first round may stand. However the constitution also provides that the group that nominates one of these two candidates may nominate an alternative candidate in his or her place in the second round. If there is only one candidate standing in a presidential election then the electorate is granted the opportunity to either accept or reject him or her in a referendum
Referendum
A referendum is a direct vote in which an entire electorate is asked to either accept or reject a particular proposal. This may result in the adoption of a new constitution, a constitutional amendment, a law, the recall of an elected official or simply a specific government policy. It is a form of...

.

While in office the President cannot belong to an elected body or hold any other occupation.

Oath of office

Article 62 of the constitution provides that the president must take the following oath or affirmation of office in the presence of the Federal Assembly
Federal Assembly of Austria
The Federal Assembly is the name given to a formal joint session of the two houses of the Austrian federal parliament, the National Council and the Federal Council....

 (although the addition of a religious asseveration is admissible):
I solemnly promise that I shall faithfully observe the Constitution and all the laws of the Republic and shall fulfill my duty to the best of my knowledge and belief.

Responsibilities

Though technically wielding powers comparable to that of the chief executives of presidential system
Presidential system
A presidential system is a system of government where an executive branch exists and presides separately from the legislature, to which it is not responsible and which cannot, in normal circumstances, dismiss it....

s, in practice Austria operates under a parliamentary system
Parliamentary system
A parliamentary system is a system of government in which the ministers of the executive branch get their democratic legitimacy from the legislature and are accountable to that body, such that the executive and legislative branches are intertwined....

 of government, and the Federal President is more a figurehead than an actual head of government
Head of government
Head of government is the chief officer of the executive branch of a government, often presiding over a cabinet. In a parliamentary system, the head of government is often styled prime minister, chief minister, premier, etc...

.

In constitutional theory, the President has free rein in appointing the head of the federal cabinet and, by extension, free rein in appointing federal cabinet ministers, Supreme Court justices, military officers, and most major bureaucrats. The President even has the authority to dissolve the National Council (the more powerful lower house
Lower house
A lower house is one of two chambers of a bicameral legislature, the other chamber being the upper house.Despite its official position "below" the upper house, in many legislatures worldwide the lower house has come to wield more power...

 of the Austrian parliament
Parliament of Austria
In the Parliament of Austria is vested the legislative power of the Republic of Austria. The institution consists of two chambers,* the National Council and* the Federal Council ....

) more or less at will. However, as a practical matter, all the President ever does is fulfill purely ceremonial duties: much like British monarchs
British monarchy
The monarchy of the United Kingdom is the constitutional monarchy of the United Kingdom and its overseas territories. The present monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, has reigned since 6 February 1952. She and her immediate family undertake various official, ceremonial and representational duties...

, holders of the office of President of Austria are bound by constitutional convention
Constitutional convention (political custom)
A constitutional convention is an informal and uncodified procedural agreement that is followed by the institutions of a state. In some states, notably those Commonwealth of Nations states that follow the Westminster system and whose political systems derive from British constitutional law, most...

 to aim at being nonpartisan custodians of political morality, to serve as symbols of national identity, and not to intervene in actual politics.

Chief appointments officer

The President appoints and swears in the Federal Chancellor
Chancellor of Austria
The Federal Chancellor is the head of government in Austria. Its deputy is the Vice-Chancellor. Before 1918, the equivalent office was the Minister-President of Austria. The Federal Chancellor is considered to be the most powerful political position in Austrian politics.-Appointment:The...

 and, upon the advice of the Chancellor, the federal ministers. While the President technically could assign the office of Chancellor and, by extension, the offices of the federal ministers to whomever he or she sees fit, the National Council can divest individual ministers or the cabinet
Cabinet (government)
A Cabinet is a body of high ranking government officials, typically representing the executive branch. It can also sometimes be referred to as the Council of Ministers, an Executive Council, or an Executive Committee.- Overview :...

 as a whole from office through a motion of no confidence
Motion of no confidence
A motion of no confidence is a parliamentary motion whose passing would demonstrate to the head of state that the elected parliament no longer has confidence in the appointed government.-Overview:Typically, when a parliament passes a vote of no...

. Also, even a cabinet not dismissed but merely not supported by the National Council could easily end up paralyzed. In practice, therefore, the cabinet's composition reflects National Council election rather than presidential election results, the president customarily assigning the office of chancellor to the National Council majority leader.

The President also appoints and swears in judges, military officers, and federal civil servants. Responsibility for the less relevant of these appointments is largely conferred upon the federal ministers, but vacancies in top-level positions such as those of Constitutional Court justices are in fact filled by the President in person. Finally, the governor
Landeshauptmann
Landeshauptmann is a former German gubernatorial title equivalent to that of a governor of a province or a state....

s of Austria's federal states
States of Austria
Austria is a federal republic made up of nine states, known in German as Länder . Since Land is also the German word for a country, the term Bundesländer is often used instead to avoid ambiguity. The Constitution of Austria uses both terms...

 are sworn in by the president.

Legislation

The President signs bills into law. The president does not have the power to veto bills, his or her signature is a technical formality notarizing that the bill has been introduced and resolved upon in accordance with the procedure stipulated by the constitution. The president does not even have the authority to refuse signing a bill he or she deems unconstitutional as such; a bill may be vetoed only on the grounds that its genesis, not its substance, is in violation of basic law. Adjudicating upon the constitutionality of the bill itself is the exclusive prerogative of the Constitutional Court. The President could, however, order a referendum
Referendum
A referendum is a direct vote in which an entire electorate is asked to either accept or reject a particular proposal. This may result in the adoption of a new constitution, a constitutional amendment, a law, the recall of an elected official or simply a specific government policy. It is a form of...

 concerning a bill passed by the legislature.

Other duties

  • The President represents Austria in international relations. Actual foreign policy being cabinet matter, however, this responsibility is exclusively ceremonial. Mainly, the president accredits foreign ambassadors and symbolically acts as the host for state visits to Austria.
  • The President is commander in chief of Austria's armed forces. This, too, is largely nominal, the actual head of command being the minister of defense.
  • The President has the authority to dissolve the National Council (on advice of the Federal Government), or, in this case pending approval of the Federal Council
    Federal Council of Austria
    The Federal Council of Austria or Bundesrat is the second chamber of the Austrian parliament, representing the nine States of Austria on federal level. As part of a bicameral legislature alongside of the National Council of Austria , it can be compared with an upper house or a senate...

    , a state parliament, but exercising this power without good reason would be an unprecedented breach of constitutional convention. (Note that he or she does need to give a reason, and may only use that reason once during his term of office.)
  • The President is a plenipotentiary authorized to rule by emergency decree in times of crisis.
  • The President confers the honours and decorations of the Austrian national honours system
    Honours system in the Republic of Austria
    The honours system in the Republic of Austria is a means of rewarding individuals' personal achievement, or service to Austria by state decorations and medals....

    . From the day of being elected, he is entitled to wear the Grand Star of the Decoration for Services to the Republic of Austria
    Decoration for Services to the Republic of Austria
    The Decoration of Honour for Services to the Republic of Austria is a state decoration of the Republic of Austria...

    for life.
  • The President can, and frequently does, pardon criminals.
  • The President has the right to legitimate
    Legitimation
    Legitimation or legitimization is the act of providing legitimacy. Legitimation in the social sciences refers to the process whereby an act, process, or ideology becomes legitimate by its attachment to norms and values within in given society...

     children born out of wedlock, upon request by the parents. Since Austrian law, for (almost) all intents and purposes no longer differentiates between legitimate and illegitimate children, this is no longer of any practical importance.

Impeachment and removal

The Austrian constitution provides that the Federal President can be removed from office by a referendum initiated by the Federal Assembly. The Federal Assembly can also impeach the President before the Constitutional Court. However, neither of these courses has ever been taken.

To hold a referendum on the deposition of the President the National Council must first pass a resolution requiring that the Federal Assembly be convened to consider the matter. This resolution must be endorsed by two-thirds of all votes cast in a meeting at which at least one half of the total number of members are present. If the resolution is passed the President is immediately suspended from the exercise of his or her powers and the Federal Assembly is convoked by the Federal Chancellor. A referendum may then be held on the demand of the assembly. If a proposal, in a referendum, to depose the President is rejected then the President is deemed to have been re-elected, the National Council is dissolved and a general election
General election
In a parliamentary political system, a general election is an election in which all or most members of a given political body are chosen. The term is usually used to refer to elections held for a nation's primary legislative body, as distinguished from by-elections and local elections.The term...

 must be held.

Succession

The Constitution of Austria
Constitution of Austria
The Constitution of Austria is the body of all constitutional law of the Republic of Austria on the federal level. It is split up over many different acts...

 makes no provision for an office of vice president. Should the president fall ill, or for some other reason be temporarily incapacitated, presidential powers and responsibilities devolve upon the Chancellor. Should the President die, be impeached
Impeachment
Impeachment is a formal process in which an official is accused of unlawful activity, the outcome of which, depending on the country, may include the removal of that official from office as well as other punishment....

, be removed from office as a result of impeachment or recall, or for some other reason be hindered from fulfilling his or her role for a period of more than twenty days, presidential powers and responsibilities devolve upon the college of the three presidents of the National Council.

See also

  • History of Austria
    History of Austria
    The history of Austria covers the history of the current country of Austria and predecessor states, from the Iron Age, through to a sovereign state, annexation by the German Third Reich, partition after the Second World War and later developments until the present day...

  • Politics of Austria
    Politics of Austria
    The Politics of Austria take place in a framework of a federal parliamentary representative democratic republic, with a Federal Chancellor as the head of government, and a Federal President as head of state. Executive power is exercised by the governments, both local and federal...

  • List of Federal Presidents of Austria
  • Chancellor of Austria
    Chancellor of Austria
    The Federal Chancellor is the head of government in Austria. Its deputy is the Vice-Chancellor. Before 1918, the equivalent office was the Minister-President of Austria. The Federal Chancellor is considered to be the most powerful political position in Austrian politics.-Appointment:The...

  • List of Chancellors of Austria
  • Lists of incumbents

External links

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