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4 December 2016

Austria’s far-right presidential candidate Norbert Hofer concedes defeat

The vote was seen as a test of how other populist, anti-establishment candidates might perform in elections across Europe next year.  

By Serena Kutchinksy

In an unexpected early result, Austria’s far-right party has conceded defeat in the country’s presidential election. The loss of the Freedom Party’s candidate Norbet Hofer to the liberal, Green Party-backed independent Alexander Van der Bellen, will be seen as a setback for the populist, Eurosceptic cause across Europe.

The official result of this bitterly fought election is unlikely to be confirmed before Monday, but the poll projections show a definitive victory for Van der Bellen. The projections had put Van der Bellen on 53.6% ahead of Hofer on 46.4%.

Hofer acknowledged his loss shortly after voting closed and congratulated his opponent. “I am infinitely sad that it didn’t work out, I would have liked to watch over our Austria,” he wrote in a post on his Facebook page.

Hofer was aiming to become the first far-right leader in the European Union. Opinion polls in the run-up to today’s vote suggested the candidates were neck and neck.

His victory would have emboldened other far-right movements across Europe, such as Marine Le’s Pen’s Front National, further eroding the European liberal consensus. It would have been a shock of a similar scale to the Brexit vote and Donald Trump’s victory in the US presidential race.

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The election was originally won by Van der Bellen back in May, but Austria’s supreme court demanded a re-run after voting irregularities emerged during the count. Van der Bellen now looks set to increase his victory of 31,000 votes by a factor of ten.

Hofer, one of the deputy presidents in Austria’s parliament, campaigned for the presidency on an anti-immigration platform. He attacked the government over its decision to allow 90,000 refugees and migrants to enter the country last year.

He had also appeared to suggest Austria could become the next nation to follow Britain out of the EU, with a referendum on its membership of the bloc. He later ruled that out, but stated that he would oppose Turkey’s bid for membership and further centralisation.

While the post of president is largely ceremonial, the vote had heightened significance as an indication of how well other populist candidates might perform in the forthcoming presidential and parliamentary elections across France, Germany and the Netherlands.