‘Elites that distance themselves from voters will be voted out’ – Austria’s Hofer on Trump win

Austrian presidential candidate Norbert Hofer of the Freedom Party © Heinz-Peter Bader
Austrian far-right presidential candidate Norbert Hofer says Donald Trump’s victory in the US presidential elections proves the public has had enough of political elites and he now sees his own victory in his country’s upcoming elections as more likely.

“Wherever the elites distance themselves from voters, those elites will be voted out of office,” Hofer of Austria’s Freedom Party said in an interview with Reuters news agency. Inspired by Trump’s surprise victory, the politician now believes his election campaign is on the right track, despite its sharp stance on Austria’s EU membership and immigration.

“One comparison could be that Trump also had strong (political) headwinds in the US and he won the election anyway,” Hofer said, comparing himself to the US president-elect. Just like ordinary Americans, ordinary Austrians who are ignored by the ruling political establishment will see that he, like Trump, is ready to deal with their concerns, Hofer believes.

Hofer lost a run-off election to former Green Party leader Alexander Van der Bellen by some 31,000 votes in May of this year, but the results were annulled after Austria’s highest court found that a number of procedural irregularities had transpired during the voting process. The run-off scheduled for next month is also expected to be close, but polls have been showing for months that Hofer has a good chance of winning

Hofer’s campaign has been focused on every European’s eye sore – the refugee crisis. The right-wing candidate has repeatedly advocated for a ban on “economic migrants” who he says “destroy the social system.”

Austria, a nation with a population of just 8.7 million citizens, has taken in over 120,000 refugees from the Middle East, Africa, and Asia since 2015, bearing the largest burden of the migrant influx along with Germany and Sweden.

“Of course this is a human issue, but I cannot completely ignore the budgetary burden,” Hofer told Reuters, defending his position again. Hofer’s views have found many supporters, as many Austrians have been angered by the flood of new arrivals and the EU’s inability to deal with it.

Although Hofer was previously a strong advocate of an “Auxit,” or Austria’s exit from the EU, he later changed his tune after the UK’s decision to leave the bloc was met by negative reactions at home. A survey conducted by polling institute SORA in July after Britain’s ‘out’ vote found that some 70 percent of Austrians said they would vote to stay in the EU in a referendum.

“The European Union – that is us, the member countries – made the big mistake of not complying with our own agreements, of not taking ourselves seriously anymore,” Hofer told Reuters, expressing hope that “there will be something like a wake-up call, that people say, we realized that we made big mistakes” with regard to Britain’s decision.

Hofer is not the only anti-establishment leader to greet Trump’s US election victory with enthusiasm. Far-right forces all over Europe have welcomed the news as a backlash against the establishment.

UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage, who championed Britain’s exit from the EU, congratulated Trump on his victory, describing it as a “supersized Brexit.”

“The nation state is back. 2016 is the year that people voted for change and to take back control of their lives. The Trump victory is like a supersized Brexit,” he said last week, as quoted by Reuters.

Marine Le Pen, the leader of France’s far-right National Front party, said on Wednesday that anti-establishment sentiment has been gaining ground all over the world and she believes this may propel her to France’s presidency come May.

“The forces at work in these various elections are ideas, forces which could bring about my election as the president of France next May,” Le Pen said at the opening of her presidential campaign headquarters in Paris on Wednesday, while describing it as part of a “worldwide movement” that stands up to “unchecked globalization, destructive ultra-liberalism, the elimination of nation states, the disappearance of borders.”

“I’m convinced the French people will follow in British and American footsteps,” she told ITV News.

Germany’s finance minister, Wolfgang Schaeuble, warned last week that the ‘Trump effect’, as it has been dubbed in the media, could spread, as leaders in politics, business and society lose ground to “demagogic populism.” 

READ MORE: ‘Trump effect’ now possible elsewhere due to Western leaders’ images – German finance minister

“Demagogic populism is not only America’s problem. Political debate elsewhere in the West is also in an alarming state,” he wrote for Bild magazine, saying that populist agendas are on the rise and may well gain momentum as “the elites in politics, business and society do not always provide a good impression.”