Monday

22nd Jan 2018

Analysis

Austrian elections: The never-ending story

  • Graffiti with Hitler-type moustache on Hofer election posters (Photo: Michael Gubi)

It’s a never-ending story. Five months after Green Party-affiliated candidate Alexander van der Bellen narrowly beat far-right candidate Norbert Hofer, Austria still has no president and no definite date for another election.

The original result was annulled by Austria’s Constitutional Court because of vote-counting irregularities.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

A rerun scheduled for 2 October has now also been derailed - by glue that won’t stick. A number of envelopes sent to voters for their mail votes won’t stay closed.

Rather than run the risk of another election fiasco, and a possible renewed constitutional challenge to the outcome, the Austrian interior minister has asked parliament to approve a postponement to 4 December.

A week is a long time in politics. Two months is even longer and opinion polls in recent months had given Hofer a marginal edge over Van der Bellen.

In August, his narrow lead grew to 53 percent against 47 percent, before dropping back to a 52-48 margin.

Emergency decree

The lead diminished after the shock of attacks in Germany and France in the summer began to wane, a post-coup political row with Turkey stagnated, and a summer surge of refugees failed to materialise.

The absence, so far, of overwhelming new refugee numbers has not stopped hardliners - most notably the interior minister himself, as well as foreign minister Sebastian Kurz - from demanding firmer action.

They want an extraordinary parliamentary decree declaring a nationwide state of emergency and effectively halting all new asylum requests to be passed even before the self-imposed cap of 37,500 requests is reached.

The cap was agreed on by the Social Democrats (SPO) and the junior coalition partner the People’s Party, to which Kurz belongs.

The new leader of the SPO, chancellor Christian Kern, who was still head of the Austrian Railways when the first round of the presidential election was held six months ago, has suggested there is no need for an emergency degree unless there is actually an emergency.

But he’s being undercut by hardliners in his own party such as defence minister Hans-Peter Doskozil, who is a former senior police officer and is a political protege of the governor of the Austrian state of Burgenland. The Burgenland is ruled by an SPO coalition with the far-right Freedom Party, and the governor is said to be in favour of such a coalition on the national level too.

More election rumours

In a possible nod to this hard-line pressure within his own party, Kern surprised friend and foe alike by undiplomatically calling for a complete end to EU accession talks with Turkey following the attempted coup.

He issued the call on the same night in which thousands of supporters of Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan demonstrated in the streets of Vienna without the necessary prior registration. Not to be outdone, Hofer subsequently suggested a hold be put on granting Austrian citizenship to Turks.

Renewed coalition bickering sparked by these differing opinions, and other disagreements, both between and within the two governing parties, have refuelled rumours that early legislative elections are in the offing well before the end of the current government’s full term.

In taking a tough line on refugees, some suggest, certain politicians from the two mainstream parties may be preparing to take the wind out of the sails of the far-right Freedom Party, which has for months dominated national opinion polls, while at the same time paving the way for a coalition with the far right should they still triumph in early elections.

In any event, the hard-nosed - some say populist - tone of certain mainstream party ministers on the refugee crisis resonates with the key anti-immigrant, pro-security focus of Hofer’s presidential campaign, and may provide impetus to far-right support for it from the electorate mainstream.

This support could increase further if there are any more Islamist attacks before the now-postponed rerun, if the refugee crisis rears its head again, or if the political spat with Turkey takes a further turn for the worse, especially with renewed demonstrations by Erdogan supporters in Austrian cities.

Candidates still hopeful

“A lot will depend on developments that may still occur in Austria,” Hofer spokesman Martin Glier told EUobserver.

In the annulled vote, Van der Bellen beat Hofer by only 35,000 votes, so any such developments - or the absence thereof - may be crucial in determining how many people decide to vote for the candidate they didn’t vote for last time.

Polls indicate that voter turnout is going to remain high. The irritation, anger, bemusement and disbelief sparked by yet another twist in the drawn-out presidential saga are not yet translating into voter fatigue.

Meanwhile, both Van der Bellen and Hofer remain indefatigably confident. Glier acknowledged that despite the postponement the race was still “tight”, but he said Hofer’s chances were “intact”.

Asked if Van der Bellen retained confidence that he would be Austria’s next president, his spokesman Reinhard Pickl-Herk had one word for EUobserver: “Yes.”

Austria drafts anti-asylum law

Austrian lawmakers are set to pass a law that would prevent people from applying for asylum once a self-prescribed upper limit has been reached.

Analysis

Austrian election sets Europe's nerves on edge

The rerun of the Austrian election, in the post-Brexit climate, poses questions for the broader viability of the EU's post-WWII vision of a liberal and united Europe.

Austrian candidates both seek Trump effect

Donald Trump's victory is enlivening Austria's presidential campaign - one side seizing on it as a sign that the masses are rising up, the other depicting it as a stark warning of the dangers of demagoguery.

Austrians ponder shift to far right

Austrian voters will on Sunday decide whether to stay in the EU centre, or lurch to the radical right, with Hofer slightly ahead in polls ahead of the presidential election.

Hungary to tax NGOs that 'help' migration

Ahead of elections in April, Hungary's government swings into campaign mode by proposing a new set of rules to stop illegal migration and NGOs that assist in it.

Bulgaria's corruption problem mars EU presidency start

A dispute between the government and the president over an anti-corruption law has put the spotlight on one of the Bulgaria's main problems - just as it is trying to showcase its economic and social progress.

News in Brief

  1. Belgium lowers terror alert level
  2. France, Spain set to gain seats in post-Brexit EU parliament
  3. Orban family probed over 'fraudulent' EU projects
  4. Spanish judge rejects Puigdemont arrest warrant
  5. Austria plans to sue Commission over Hungary's nuclear plant
  6. Puigdemont proposed as sole candidate for Catalan leadership
  7. Abbas in Brussels to discuss Palestinian state recognition
  8. Exiled Catalan leader leaves Belgium for first time

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Solutions for Sustainable Cities: New Grants Awarded for Branding Projects
  2. Mission of China to the EUTrade Between China, Belt and Road Countries up 15%
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersOresund Inspires Other EU Border Regions to Work Together to Generate Growth
  4. Mission of China to the EUTrade Between China, Belt and Road Countries up 15%
  5. AJC Transatlantic InstituteAJC Calls on EU to Sanction Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, Expel Ambassadors
  6. Dialogue PlatformRoundtable on "Political Islam, Civil Islam and The West" 31 January
  7. ILGA EuropeFreedom of Movement and Same-Sex Couples in Romania – Case Update!
  8. EU2017EEEstonia Completes First EU Presidency, Introduced New Topics to the Agenda
  9. Bio-Based IndustriesLeading the Transition Towards a Post-Petroleum Society
  10. ACCAWelcomes the Start of the New Bulgarian Presidency
  11. Mission of China to the EUPremier Li and President Tusk Stress Importance of Ties at ASEM Summit
  12. EU2017EEVAT on Electronic Commerce: New Rules Adopted

Latest News

  1. EU stands by Palestine on Jerusalem
  2. MEPs may bar killer robots and drones from EU research cash
  3. Europe's social democrats are having a hard time
  4. How Oettinger's CO2 permit sale could fill Brexit blackhole
  5. New Polish foreign minister tries to charm EU commission
  6. Middle East, Messi and missing MEPs on agenda This WEEK
  7. Instagram and Google Plus join EU anti-hate speech drive
  8. EU wants 'entrepreneurship' in education systems

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Jewish CongressChair of EU Parliament Working Group on Antisemitism Condemns Wave of Attacks
  2. Counter BalanceA New Study Challenges the Infrastructure Mega Corridors Agenda
  3. Dialogue PlatformThe Gülen Community: Who to Believe - Politicians or Actions?" by Thomas Michel
  4. Plastics Recyclers Europe65% Plastics Recycling Rate Attainable by 2025 New Study Shows
  5. European Heart NetworkCommissioner Andriukaitis' Address to EHN on the Occasion of Its 25th Anniversary
  6. ACCACFOs Risk Losing Relevance If They Do Not Embrace Technology
  7. UNICEFMake the Digital World Safer for Children & Increase Access for the Most Disadvantaged
  8. European Jewish CongressWelcomes Recognition of Jerusalem as the Capital of Israel and Calls on EU States to Follow Suit
  9. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Boost Innovation Cooperation Under Horizon 2020
  10. European Gaming & Betting AssociationJuncker’s "Political" Commission Leaves Gambling Reforms to the Court
  11. AJC Transatlantic InstituteAJC Applauds U.S. Recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s Capital City
  12. EU2017EEEU Telecom Ministers Reached an Agreement on the 5G Roadmap