If Chancellor Bruno Kreisky's Socialist Party loses its absolute majority in Sunday's Austrian elections, Europe's most senior ranking statesman may decide - as he has been saying - to ''take my hat and go.''
After a quarter-century in government, he has been thinking about doing just that. But party friends and colleagues urged him to stay and fight another term.
Whether the Socialist Party can maintain its seven-seat majority in the National Council, or upper house of parliament, is really the only issue.
If the majority is lost, though the Socialists remain the biggest party, Kreisky would carry on with a minority government till defeated in a parliamentary vote, which would mean his own retirement. It would probably also mean new elections within a year. The general expectation is that he will just make it, probably at the expense of a few seats.
Kreisky has had a hand in shaping Austrian politics since the early 1950s, when he participated in talks with the Soviets that signaled the first ''thaw'' in the cold war and led to the state treaty ending the occupation of Austria in 1955.
During the ''Kreisky era'' - a term he deprecates - Austrians have enjoyed a remarkable period of domestic consensus, economic growth, and stability that for years have sheltered them from world recession and inflation.
Despite periodic falls and rises in East-West tensions, he has rebuilt to Austria's advantage traditional trade and other contacts between Vienna and the Communist capitals of east-central and southeastern Europe. Yet, as his dealings with hard-line Czechoslovakia show, he is blunt when he feels another government is committing human rights violations. And he has not been backward in telling the United States where he believes intransigent attitudes aggravated the Polish crisis rather than helped Poles as a nation.
Kreisky has suggested what to many observers has seemed the best outside idea for Poland: an international, East-West stabilization program based on the Helsinki Accord - its provisions for economic cooperation as well as political ''baskets.'' He intends to put it to Yuri Andropov when he visits the Kremlin in May or June.
Kreisky talks quietly but with pride of the way Austria has been brought back into Europe.
''By the end of the war,'' he says, ''we were a forgotten country. We had been taken off the map of Europe. This cannot happen again. We have a place in the world. People have long since stopped confusing Austria with Australia. There can be no more civil war.''
Unemployment was a major element leading to the civil strife to Austria in the '30s. Today there are some 150,000 jobless here, which, by Austrian standards, is high. The opposition parties have tried to make unemployment an issue, but it seems unlikely to reach a level they could really exploit.
Currently, the National Council is divided this way: The Socialists hold 95 seats; the People's (conservative) Party, 77; and Freedom Party, 11 seats. The Communists, who have not held a seat in Parliament since 1959, are trying again but have little chance of getting one.
There are two ecological ''green'' groups: a rightist, older-generation group; and a younger ''alternative list.'' The latter, largely left-wing and vaunting an anonymous ''collective'' rather than individual leadership, would like to upset the monopoly of the two big parties in local government affairs.
Neither ''green'' party is of any real significance, but the young group might capture a few seats. Should it win enough to wreck the Socialist majority, 5 million Austrians might have to go to the polls again - without Kreisky - within a very short time.