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23 May 2016

Austria rejects far-right presidential candidate by narrow margin

Independent, Green Party backed candidate Alexander Van der Bellen has won the Austrian presidential election

By Zayani Bhatt

Alexander Van der Bellen, the independent Green Party backed candidate, has won the Austria presidential election.

He narrowly beat far right Freedom Party candidate Nobert Hofer, following a near fifty-fifty split of votes from the main ballot on Sunday. In the eventual result, Van der Bellen had 50.35 per cent of the vote to Hofer’s 49.65 per cent.

The final result was detemined once the 740,000 postal votes had been counted. Voter turn out was 71.9 per cent.

This is the first time since 1945 that a candidate from a party other than the two main Austrian political camps – the centre-left Social Democratic Party and centre-right Austrian People’s Party – has won the presidency.

In common with other European countries, Austria has seen a rise in nationalism in recent years. The arrival of new migrants thanks to the refugee crisis, the doubling of unemployment within the last three years and an increasing scarcity in affordable housing are thought to be behind this.

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Although the presidential position in Austria is largely ceremonial, Van der Bellen will have the power to dismiss the national council (the elected lower half of parliament) and trigger a general election.

The eurosceptic and anti-Muslim Hofer garnered most votes from rural areas whereas pro-EU Bellen secured the majority of urban votes. The current government is a coalition between Social Democratic Party and the centre-right Austrian People’s Party, and it will have an uphill battle to prevent further polarisation before next year’s general election. 

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