15th Apr 2024

Austrians give landslide to Social Democrat president

Austria's incumbent Social Democrat president, Heinz Fischer, won a second six-year term in office on Sunday, with 79 percent of the vote.

But a far-right candidate, Barbara Rosenkranz, known for opposition to the country's Holocaust denial laws that had dominated election news, in the end captured only 15 percent.

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  • Ms Rosenkranz on the campaign trail (Photo: Michael Thurm)

While still high, the vote for the woman described by opponents as the ‘Reich Mother' for her extreme views and ten children with antiquated Germanic names, is considerably lower than the 20 to 25 percent predicted by some polls and a sharp drop on the 28 percent the far right won in the 2008 general election.

The mainstream centre-right, the People's Party, failed to field a candidate for what is a largely ribbon-cutting ceremonial post once it became clear that the popular Mr Fischer was on track to win a landslide victory.

Turn-out was especially low, with just 48.1 percent voting, down from 71.4 percent at the last presidential election in 2004.

The far-right Freedom Party had hoped that a strong showing for Ms Rosenkranz, who was backed in her campaign by the biggest selling daily tabloid, Kronen Zeitung, would provide a springboard for party leader Heinz-Christian Strache to win the mayoralty of Vienna in October.

Currently a member of the provincial government in Lower Austria, the 51-year-old Ms Rosenkranz had long been an opponent of the 1947 Prohibition Act, which bans Holocaust denial and criminalises Nazi revivalism.

During the campaign, she complained that such laws were "unnecessary restrictions" on freedom of expression, and when asked directly whether she believed in the existence of the Nazi gas chambers, she said in what was widely viewed as a coded denial: "My conception of history is that of an Austrian who was taught at Austrian schools between 1964 and 1976," a period in which the history curriculum avoided mention of the Second World War and the Holocaust.

Although Ms Rosenkranz later backtracked and condemned the Holocaust. she also made news for the political views of her husband, Horst Jakob Rosenkranz, was a leading member of the neo-Nazi National Democratic Party (NDP), which was banned in 1988. He remains publisher of the far-right magazine Fakten, and fundraises to support imprisoned neo-Nazis.

She also campaigned against immigration and the European Union, saying the country's borders should be closed to migrants from eastern EU states.

Mr Strache, who had earlier predicted that Ms Rosenkranz would win 35 percent of the vote, attacked what he called an "unprecedented media witch-hunt against a very good candidate and her family."

Conceding defeat, Ms Rosenkranz for her part complained of a "witch hunt," saying: "It really wasn't a fair election campaign - I think everyone saw that."

Throughout the election protests followed her campaign almost everywhere she went, while her election posters in Vienna were repeatedly defaced.

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