Saturday

23rd Sep 2017

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 and get 40% off for an annual subscription. Sale ends soon.

  1. €90 per year. Use discount code EUOBS40%
  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.

Quiet showdown in Barcelona

Thousands of Catalans have taken to the streets, in protest against the Spanish government's efforts to prevent the independence referendum. Both sides know that violence would go against their cause.

EU 'embarrassed' by Catalan 'taboo'

Faced with the growing tension between the Spanish and Catalan governments, the member states and EU institutions would prefer not to get involved.

News in Brief

  1. Dutch state appeals ban on taking air-polluting measures
  2. May proposes 2-year transition period after Brexit
  3. May to call on EU's 'sense of responsibility'
  4. Catalonia has 'contingency plans' for independence vote
  5. Last German polls confirm Merkel's lead
  6. EU to step up sanctions on North Korea
  7. Tusk calls 'euro summit' in December
  8. Report: May to seek two-year EU transition

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Mission of China to the EUGermany Stands Ready to Deepen Cooperation With China
  2. World VisionFirst Ever Young People Consultation to Discuss the Much Needed Peace in Europe
  3. European Jewish CongressGermany First Country to Adopt Working Definition of Antisemitism
  4. EU2017EEFour Tax Initiatives to Modernise the EU's Tax System
  5. Dialogue PlatformResponsibility in Practice: Gulen & Islamic Thought
  6. Counter BalanceHuman Rights Concerns Over EIB Loan to the Trans Anatolian Pipeline Project
  7. Mission of China to the EUChina Leads the Global Clean Energy Transition
  8. CES - Silicones EuropeFrom Baking Moulds to Oven Mitts, Silicones Are a Key Ingredient in Kitchens
  9. Martens CentreFor a New Europeanism: How to Put the Motto "Unity in Diversity" Into Practice
  10. Access MBAGet Ahead With an MBA Degree. Top MBA Event in Brussels
  11. Idealist QuarterlyIdealist Quarterly Event: Building Fearless Democracies With Gerald Hensel
  12. Mission of China to the EUPresident Xi Urges Bigger Global Role for Emerging Economies

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EU2017EEAre We Socially Insured in the Future of Work?
  2. European Jewish CongressFrench Authorities to Root Out "Societal Antisemitism" After Jewish Family Assaulted
  3. European Federation of Local Energy CompaniesClean Energy for All? On 10.10 Top-Level Speakers Present the Clean Energy Package
  4. UNICEFUp to Three Quarters of Children Face Abuse & Exploitation on Mediterranean Migration Routes
  5. Swedish EnterprisesEurope Under Challenge; Recipe for a Competitive EU
  6. European Public Health AllianceCall to International Action to Break Deadlock on Chronic Diseases Crisis
  7. CES - Silicones EuropePropelling the construction revolution with silicones
  8. EU2017EEEU 2018 Budget: A Case of Three Paradoxes
  9. ACCAUS 'Dash for Gas' Could Disrupt Global Gas Markets
  10. Swedish Enterprises“No Time to Lose” Film & Debate on How Business & Politics Can Fight Climate Change
  11. European Free AllianceSave The Date!! 26.09 - Coppieters Awards To... Carme Forcadell
  12. European Jewish CongressEJC Expresses Grave Concern Over Rise in Antisemitism in Poland