Austria's right win could hold Presidency; sack the Government
May 22, 2016
Early poll results show right-wing politician Norbert Hofer neck and neck with his nearest rival for the Austrian presidency, independent candidate Alexander Van der Bellen, in what is likely to be a nail-biting race to the election finishing line.
The projections by the SORA polling institute are based on 92 percent of the vote, with both Hofer and Van der Bellen deadlocked at 50.0 percent. The poll has a margin of error of only 1 point.
Although the result is due to be announced after 7pm, a high number of postal ballots has raised the prospect that the election outcome may not be known until Monday.
A far-right victory would put a right-wing politician into the office for the first time since WWII.
It would also resonate across the 28-member EU, where migration driven by conflict and poverty in the Middle East and elsewhere has become a major political issue.
Support for groups like the eurosceptic, anti-immigration Freedom Party (FPO) has been on the rise in European countries that have taken in large numbers of migrants – like Germany and Sweden – as well as some that have not – like France and Britain.
Most far-right parties are still far from achieving majority support. The FPO has been in government before, serving as a coalition partner in the early 2000s when it was led by the late Joerg Haider.
But whoever wins the presidential election, it is likely to be a new high-water mark for Austria's and Europe's far right, all the more significant for taking place in a prosperous country with comparatively low, albeit rising, unemployment.
If Hofer wins, mainstream parties will also come under scrutiny for not recommending an anti-FPO vote. However, many feel that taking a harder stance against the right-wing party would only have bolstered the FPO's argument that it is taking on Austria's deeply entrenched political establishment.
In Austria, the president traditionally plays a largely ceremonial role but swears in the chancellor and can dismiss the cabinet.
"I have to work for one or two years and then everybody will see that I am OK, I am not a dangerous person," Hofer, 45, told reporters after voting in his eastern hometown of Pinkafeld.
Hofer, deputy leader of the FPO, is known as the gentler face of the party but has only recently become a household name.
Austria took in 90,000 asylum seekers last year, more than 1 percent of its population, many of them shortly after it and neighbouring Germany opened their borders last autumn to a wave of migrants including refugees from Syria's civil war.
The government has since clamped down on immigration and asylum, but that failed to slow rising support for the FPO, which was already capitalising on widespread frustration with Austria's two traditional parties of government.
Sunday's run-off election comes four weeks after Hofer won the first round with 35 percent of the vote. Opinion polls had suggested his support was much lower, though they regularly show his party ahead of its rivals on more than 30 percent.
Van der Bellen, 72, who scored 21 percent in the first round, said after voting in Vienna that he was "cautiously optimistic".
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