Austria presidential race: Nationalists give voters feeling of ‘We have solution to your problem’

Norbert Hofer © Leonhard Foeger
In an effort to win over new supporters after the Austrian anti-immigration Freedom Party’s Norbert Hofer nearly became the first far-right head of state in the EU, the government has promised to take measures on asylum for refugees and to boost security.

The results of the presidential election have paved the way for some “serious findings,” Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern said on Tuesday.

The Green Party’s Alexander Van der Bellen won Austria’s presidential election on Sunday, beating Hofer in a neck-and-neck race. A mere 0.6 percent of the mail-in ballot made the difference, with the Interior Ministry’s figures showing that Van der Bellen won with a final total of 50.3 percent of the vote, while Hofer - demonized by the media and described as a “sheep in wolf’s clothing” - secured 49.7.

"One thing is absolutely clear," Kern said. "The protest that was expressed will be taken seriously," he stated, according to Austria Press Agency Group APA, adding that isolationism "is not a solution” for the export-dependent nation.

“Austria is still a country that has taken 90,000 refugees, and where burning refugee homes and Pegida [movement] are only marginal phenomena. There are no reasons to speak of a split [in the country]," Kern told a press conference.

"Isolationism and the belief that one can magically make the asylum issue disappear ... is an illusion," Reuters quoted the chancellor as saying.

CEO for the Center of Societal Security in Vienna, Reinhard Kreissl, told RT that growing support for Euroskeptic, anti-immigration parties can be easily explained.

“The economic downturn in Europe is obvious. There's a financial crisis. People are scared. They try to find a solution. They try to find an ideological home base. And the nationalists, they give them a feeling of 'We have a solution of your problem', which is not true, of course.”

Political analyst Gerhard Mangott also told RT that the huge success of the Freedom Party and the fact that none of the ruling parties even got into the runoffs showed that Austrians are totally dissatisfied with the way the authorities deal with the current problems, mass immigration just one of them.

“It was […] a vote against the establishment. People are fed up with the current government that is not able to deal with the economic crisis in the country. It was a socially-motivated protest against the government,” Mangott said.

READ MORE: Austrian presidential cliffhanger: Far-right Hofer concedes defeat to Green Van der Bellen

The prospect of Hofer’s victory has freaked out political leaders and establishments long before the runoffs, with the president of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, warning that “Europe’s character will be changed” if Hofer won 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.

“You will be surprised what can be done [by a president],” Hofer noted in a recent TV debate.

With only around 31,000 votes between him and Van der Bellen in the presidential election, some of Hofer’s supporters alleged that the race was flawed. A petition calling for people not to accept Van der Bellen as president has been launched and garnered more than 21,000 signatures by midday Tuesday.

Hofer reacted on his Facebook page by saying there was no sign of fraud in the election, and called on his supporters to “stick together.”