Thursday

13th May 2021

Austria's far-right vote too close to call

  • Green candidate Alexander Van der Bellen benefited from the votes of educated voters and women to be neck to neck with the far-right favourite (Photo: Van der Bellen's campaign)

[UPDATED on 23 May at 9.00] The expected triumph of the far-right in Austria's presidential election on Sunday (22 May) has turned into a cliffhanger, with favourite Norbert Hofer tied with his Green opponent Alexander Van der Bellen.

With all votes from polling stations counted Sunday evening, Hofer got just 144,006 more votes that Van der Bellen.

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  • Norbert Hofer was favourite after he came ahead of the first round of the election last month (Photo: FPO)

The election will be decided by postal votes on Monday, when around 885,000 will be counted on Monday. The final result is expected between 17.00 and 19.00.

"Nobody on our side had wished that," Hofer said on Sunday as the close result was unfolding.

“I have been in politics a long time and I have never experienced an election night like this.”

The 45-year old candidate for the anti-immigrant and anti-EU Freedom Party (FPO) said he would not sleep well but that he was "still a little bit confident".

"One of us will be president. He must become president for all," Hofer said.

Van der Bellen said he was "cautiously confident" he would win.

"The sovereign people has spoken. What exactly it has said - Hofer or van der Bellen - we will know tomorrow afternoon," said the 72-year old.

The close election is to some extent a surprise, as Hofer came out of the first round on 24 April well ahead of Van der Bellen, with 35.1 percent against 21.3 percent.

But the prospect of Hofer's election raised concerns in Austria and in the EU.

His election would mark the first one of a far-right head of state by universal suffrage in Europe, causing a shock on the EU stage.

If he came to office, he could dismiss the current government, a social-democrat and christian-democrat coalition.

He could also appoint FPO leader Heinz-Christian Strache as chancellor, giving the far-right full control of Austrian politics.

These concerns could explain why turnout in the second round (71.9 percent) was higher than in the first round (68.5 percent) as Van der Bellen seems to have benefited from it.

Van der Bellen had been an outside bet, but he unexpectedly beat candidates from Austria’s two main parties in the first round.

Exit polls on Sunday indicated that he got strong support from people with higher education and from women.

According to one poll, 54 percent of under-29-year-olds voted for him, including 67 percent of women under 29. Sixty-three percent of men between 30 and 59 also backed him.

The poll said 63 percent of men in white-collar jobs voted for Hofer, and 59 percent of women in white-collar jobs backed Van der Bellen.

Another poll said 76 percent of voters with higher education voted for Van der Bellen, while 62 percent of less educated voters backed Hofer.

On the opposite, 86 percent of blue-collar workers voted for Hofer.

Overall, 40 percent of people who voted for Van der Bellen said they did so to prevent Hofer's election. Fourteen percent said they voted for him because he was the best candidate.

The electoral map also shows a clear division between cities, which mainly voted for Van Der Bellen, and small towns and countryside where Hofer is ahead.

Analysis

Austria prepares for historic swerve to the right

A victory of the far-right candidate Norbert Hofer at Sunday's presidential election would open the way to a tandem with a far-richt chancellor in a near future, with unforessen consequences for the country's democracy.

Far right wins first round of Austrian vote

Candidates from Austria's two main parties were eliminated in the first round of the presidential election for the first time in its post-war history.

Analysis

Tough challenges ahead for Austria's president

Alexander Van der Bellen, who won by just 31,000 ballots, will not have an easy task reconciling a divided country wih a far-righ that remains on the rise.

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