Right-wing v Green: Austria voting for president for 2nd time in 6 months
The rerun vote was ordered by Austria's Constitutional Court after the previous presidential election, held on May 22, was disputed following complaints of irregularities. The initial election saw the former Greens’ leader, Van der Bellen win with 50.3 percent of the vote, compared to Hofer’s 49.7 percent, with only 31,000 votes separating the candidates.
The Freedom Party complained of procedural irregularities with regard to the absentee vote count, with the highest court having later confirmed the claim.
The country has officially been without a president since July 8, when its previous leader, Heinz Fischer, stepped down. Even a rerun date had to be rescheduled by two months, following more complaints of irregularities with postal votes.
Back in spring, both candidates were neck-and-neck in national polls almost all the way up to the election day. Van der Bellen, who ran as an independent endorsed by the Green Party, was considered a firm favorite, but Hofer unexpectedly won the first round, having paved the way for the runoff.
Despite some analysts saying that the disputed postal votes might have likely been in Van der Bellen's favor, as the majority of them are cast by expatriates who tend to prefer open-border and pro-EU policies, others argue that the situation in the world has changed and Hofer might benefit from the so-called "Trump momentum."
The candidate for the Freedom Party still stands a decent chance of becoming Austria's leader after Sunday's rerun vote. With Donald Trump's victory in the US presidential elections, his own victory in Austria is now more likely, the candidate believes. The public has had enough of political elites, he claimed, following the Republican's victory.
"Wherever the elites distance themselves from voters, those elites will be voted out of office," Hofer said in an interview with Reuters.
On Saturday, a march was staged in central Vienna, with its participants protesting against Hofer and comparing him to Trump. Some 100 protesters against the ring-wing politician took part, police said.
While Van der Bellen, an economics professor and former head of the increasingly popular eco-friendly Green Party, who has strong support in cities, has described himself as a "lesser evil," Hofer's campaign has been focused on every European's eye sore – the refugee crisis.
With a sharp stance on Austria's EU membership and immigration, the right-wing candidate has repeatedly advocated for a ban on "economic migrants" who according to him "destroy the social system." Along with Germany and Sweden, Austria is bearing the largest burden of the migrant influx in the current European migrant crisis.
In May, EU Parliament president Martin Schulz even issued an official warning against Austria electing the Freedom Party candidate as its new head of state. "Europe's character will be changed if the extremist right wins the elections in Austria," Schulz who also heads a group of socialists and democrats in Europe, was quoted as saying.
Often described as "far-right," Hofer himself dismisses his opponents' claims of him spreading nationalist ideas, saying that he "does not like extremes."
"I am right side, but I'm not far-right. I'm middle right and if you compare things members of the government say here in Austria and things I say, I'm not more right than the government," Hofer told RT ahead of the Sunday vote.