World Europe 23 May 2016 Austria election: In ...

Austria election: Independent candidate narrowly defeats anti-immigration rival

AGENCIES
Published May 23, 2016, 8:52 pm IST
Updated May 23, 2016, 8:52 pm IST
Hofer's Freedom Party exploited anti-EU sentiment and fear that Austria could be overrun by refugees from the Middle East.
Van der Bellen beat Hofer of the anti-immigrant, populist Freedom Party with 50.3 per cent to 49.7 per cent - a difference of 31,026 votes. (Photo: AP)
 Van der Bellen beat Hofer of the anti-immigrant, populist Freedom Party with 50.3 per cent to 49.7 per cent - a difference of 31,026 votes. (Photo: AP)

Vienna: The Austrian government on Monday confirmed that green-backed candidate Alexander van der Bellen narrowly beat his far-right rival Norbert Hofer to the presidency after postal votes broke a tie in the closely watched race.

Van der Bellen beat Hofer of the anti-immigrant, populist Freedom Party with 50.3 per cent to 49.7 per cent -- "a difference of 31,026 votes," Interior Minister Wolfgang Sobotka said during an official announcement in Vienna.

 

Hofer's Freedom Party exploited anti-EU sentiment and fear that Austria could be overrun by refugees to become the country's most popular political force. Van der Bellen is generally supported by pro-European Union Austrians favoring humane immigration policies.

With direct ballots counted but a final result still outstanding, Sunday's elections for Austria's presidency were too close to call a winner between a right-wing politician and a challenger whose views stand in stark opposition to his rival's anti-immigrant and Eurosceptic message.

 

The direct votes gave right-winger Norbert Hofer 51.9 percent to 48.1 percent for Alexander Van der Bellen, a Greens politician running as an independent. But final projections that included still-to-be-counted absentee ballots put each at 50 percent with Van der Bellen narrowly ahead.

Candidates backed by the long-dominant Social Democratic and centrist People's Party were eliminated in last month's first round, which means neither party would hold the presidency for the first time since the end of the war. That reflects disillusionment with the status quo, and their approach to the migrant crisis and other issues.

 

Van der Bellen's supporters back liberal refugee policies and a strong, unified EU. Hofer's Freedom Party wants closed borders and campaigns consistently on strong anti-EU sentiment within the country.

Hofer and Van der Bellen drew clear lines between themselves both during the campaign and as they voted Sunday.

Asked as he arrived to cast his ballot what differentiated him from Hofer, Van der Bellen said: "I think I'm pro-European and there are some doubts as far as Mr. Hofer is concerned." Hofer, in turn, used his last pre-election gathering to deliver a message with anti-Muslim overtones.

 

"To those in Austria who go to war for the Islamic State or rape women - I say to those people: 'This is not your home,'" he told a cheering crowd Friday.

On Sunday, Hofer sought to soothe international fears that he is a radical far-righter. The Austria Press Agency cited him as telling foreign reporters Sunday that he is "really OK," and "not a dangerous person."

...
Location: Austria, Wien, Wien




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