Austria’s presidential race: Far-right Hofer winning 51.9%, intrigue with postal ballots uncounted
The Ministry states that Green Party candidate Alexander van der Bellen garnered only 48.1 percent of the ballots cast.
The Greens campaign for the rights of minorities and socio-ecological tax reform, as well as ecological issues such as environmental protection, with their Charter of 2001 stating “direct democracy, nonviolence, ecology, solidarity, feminism and self-determination” as their basic values. Van der Bellen led the party between 1997 and 2008, the years when the Greens firmly established themselves as the country’s fourth biggest political player.
Austria’s national broadcaster, ORF, had reported earlier that exit polls showed 50 percent support for each candidate.
The country will have to wait until Monday evening for the final results, according to ORF, citing Norbert Hofer.
“We will have to wait until tomorrow,” Hofer told the broadcaster, as the count of postal ballots that will determine the winner is not due to finish until Monday evening.
As for candidates from the traditionally powerful centrist coalition parties (Social Democratic SPO and Conservative OVP), they were thrown out of the presidential race in the first round of the election, held in April.
Back then, FPO’s Hofer surprised the global community by winning around 36 percent of the vote, followed by the Green Party’s Alexander Van der Bellen with some 20 percent. Despite Hofer’s success in outrunning his rivals, he failed to secure a majority and so the second round of the election had to be held.
If official results prove the current figures, Hofer will become the first right-wing head of state on the European continent since World War II.
The prospect of Hofer’s victory has shocked European political establishments long before the runoffs.
Senior European officials like Martin Schulz, the president of the European Parliament, have issued warnings that “Europe’s character will be changed” if the FPO wins the post.
Despite the presidency being a largely ceremonial post in Austria, the head of state has one key power – to dismiss the government and usher in a chancellor from his own party, which is currently leading in the polls, and Hofer has already threatened to do so.
“You will be surprised what can be done [by a president],” Hofer said in a recent TV debate. Thus Hofer’s victory could be the springboard for his party’s success in the next parliamentary elections to be held in 2018.
Hofer and the FPO’s nationalist appeal to put “Austria first,” paired by strong opposition to “forced multiculturalism, globalization and mass immigration” secured the candidate increasing support because of deepening frustration with the ruling parties and how they are dealing with the migrant crisis that’s engulfed Europe.
“I'm not a dangerous person, of course. But those people […] who don't appreciate our country, who go to war for the Islamic State or rape women – I say to those people: This is not your home! You can't stay in Austria. Because we differentiate very clearly between those who continue to build up Austria together with us and those who only care about destroying this country. We have to make this differentiation,” Hofer said in a recent election rally.
Last year some 90,000 people claimed asylum in Austria, more than 1 percent of the country’s 8.6 million population.
Hofer has also shocked the public, carrying a Glock gun openly to rallies, defending this as a “natural consequence” of immigration.
A victory by Hofer would have huge significance, emboldening far-right populist politicians in other European states where the right’s ratings have surged on a wave of anti-refugee demagoguery and economic discontent.
Britain’s eurosceptic UK Independence Party (UKIP) is already being seen as the country’s legitimate third party. The Alternative for Germany party, or AfD, made huge gains in votes in major German legislatures in March. There have been far-right gains in France, Holland, Sweden, Finland, Norway and in Greece, where the neo-Nazi “Golden Dawn” became the country's third-largest political group. Even in Cyprus, where a parliamentary election is being held this Sunday, a right-wing party is in the lead, according to exit polls.
Economics Professor Friedrich Schneider from the University of Linz told RT that Hofer and his party’s success can be easily explained by Austrians’ dissatisfaction with their current authorities and their problem-solving techniques.
“The shift to the right comes from the refugee crisis on one side and from the euro crisis on the other, from big dissatisfaction with the European Union. All these [issues] create uncertainty for a lot of Austrians.
“The population in Austria, as in […] other European countries is split, saying ‘we have to change things, to make a clearer signal what we want and what we do not want’ and that could now happen to Austria,” Schneider says, adding that no matter whether Hofer becomes President or not, his success is a strong a signal that the people want reforms.
“If he [Hofer] wins, it’s a signal that drastic changes [should be made] to current policies. But even if he loses with so many votes, the signal remains clear that we have to change things,” Schneider states.
Overall, experts agree that the current election results are historic, not only for Austria, but for other European countries as well.
“It’s a historic moment in Austrian politics. […] The victory of Mister Hofer will be some kind of [sign] for this kind of anti-establishment, anti-traditional party movements in Europe [that they] are now on track of taking over the current politics, which poses some challenges not only for Austria, but for Europe as well,” Arnold Kammel, director of the Austrian Institute for European Policy and Security in Vienna, told RT.