Tuesday

6th Dec 2016

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.

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

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.”

Countdown to Italy's future

The long-running campaign for Sunday's referendum has wrapped up, but market jitters and the rise of euroscepticism risks Italy's shaky post-recession growth.

Interview

Polish government in bid to defund NGOs

Ruling Law and Justice has promised to overhaul the NGO sector. The move could strain relations with Norway, a major donor to Polish civic life.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Jewish CongressEJC President Breathes Sigh of Relief Over Result of Austrian Presidential Election
  2. CESICongress Re-elects Klaus Heeger & Romain Wolff as Secretary General & President
  3. European Gaming & Betting AssociationAustrian Association for Betting and Gambling Joins EGBA
  4. ACCAWomen of Europe Awards: Celebrating the Women who are Building Europe
  5. European Heart NetworkWhat About our Kids? Protect Children From Unhealthy Food and Drink Marketing
  6. ECR GroupRestoring Trust and Confidence in the European Parliament
  7. UNICEFChild Rights Agencies Call on EU to put Refugee and Migrant Children First
  8. MIRAIA New Vision on Clean Tech: Balancing Energy Efficiency, Climate Change and Costs
  9. World VisionChildren Cannot Wait! 7 Priority Actions to Protect all Refugee and Migrant Children
  10. ANCI LazioRegio-Mob Project Delivers Analysis of Transport and Mobility in Rome
  11. SDG Watch EuropeCivil Society Disappointed by the Commission's Plans for Sustainable Development Goals
  12. PLATO15 Fully-Funded PhD Positions Open – The Post-Crisis Legitimacy of the EU (PLATO)

Latest News

  1. EU ministers approve 'Juncker plan' extension
  2. Commission tries to revive GMO opt-out proposal
  3. Merkel calls for Muslim veil ban
  4. Russia pipeline is security 'threat', US diplomat says
  5. Brexit deal must be done by October 2018, says EU negotiator
  6. Rising to the challenge of 'European Angst'
  7. Polish firm sues EU Commission over Gazprom privileges
  8. ID and police checks await all who enter and leave the EU

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Access NowTell the EU Council: Protect our Rights to Privacy and Security
  2. ACCAThe Future of Audit Means Adaption to Today’s Global and Digital World
  3. Swedish EnterprisesNew Rules for EU Anti-dumping Measures
  4. European Jewish CongressTakes Part in Building Resilient Communities
  5. UNICEFUniversal Children’s Day: UNICEF Calls for Global Action on Child Rights Violations
  6. Counter BalanceThe EU Bank Cannot be a Key Player in Europe's Response to the Plight of Refugees
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsEvidence of Human Rights Violations and International Crimes in Crimea
  8. Dialogue PlatformThe Failed Military Coup in Turkey & The Mass Purges
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Climate Solutions at COP22 in Marrakech
  10. Counter BalanceNGOs Call on Development Finance Institutions to Act Against Tax Avoidance
  11. European Free AllianceTrump Victory and Brexit Show Urgent Need of Improving Democracy
  12. Martens CentreOur Transatlantic 9-11: Europe After Trump