Austrian presidential election: Left-leaning Van der Bellen leads, right-wing Hofer concedes defeat

The first official results released shortly after polls closed in Austria indicate that left-leaning candidate Alexander Van der Bellen is winning the re-run presidential election with 53.5 percent of the vote. Right-wing Norbert Hofer has 46.4 percent.

Only 58 percent of total votes has been counted so far, but experts say the current results are unlikely to change.

Hofer, a member of the right-wing Freedom Party (FPO), has already conceded defeat and congratulated his rival on his election victory.

I congratulate Alexander Van der Bellen on his success and call on all Austrians to stick together and to work together,” he wrote in a Facebook post, in which he also expressed gratitude to his supporters.

I thank you [for] … your great support and I am endlessly sorry that I did not make it,” he wrote.

Hofer’s campaign manager, Herbert Kickl, also conceded the right-wing candidate’s defeat in light of the preliminary results.

In this case the establishment – which pitched in once again to block, to stonewall, and to prevent renewal – has won,” he told Austrian broadcaster ORF.

Van der Bellen, an economics professor, ran for president as an independent candidate, although he is a former leader of the increasingly popular Green Party. During the campaign, he described himself as the "lesser evil.”

Norbert Hofer focused his election campaign on Austria's EU membership and immigration and advocated a ban on "economic migrants." He argued that they allegedly "destroy the social system,” and claimed that Austria had accepted one of the largest numbers of refugees per capita during the ongoing crisis.

Hofer has widely been described as ‘far-right’ – a label he has rejected, insisting that he “does not like extremists.”

In May, EU Parliament president Martin Schulz issued an official warning against Austria electing the Freedom Party candidate as its new head of state.

Presidential elections were held in Austria on Sunday after the results of the runoff elections in May were annulled. The rerun vote was ordered by Austria's Constitutional Court due to reported irregularities during the May elections. The initial results saw 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.

Earlier in May, Hofer unexpectedly won the first round of voting, but got only about 35 percent of votes. Although this paved the way for a straight runoff between Hofer and Van der Bellen, the Green was considered the favorite.

The FPO then complained about procedural irregularities with regard to the absentee vote count and Austria’s highest court sustained its claim. The rerun date itself was then rescheduled by two months, following more complaints of irregularities with postal votes.