Friday 28 October 2016

Anti-migrant far-right in Austria set to win presidential landslide

Justin Huggler Berlin

Published 25/04/2016 | 02:30

Pleased: Presidential candidate Norbert Hofer. Photo: Reuters
Pleased: Presidential candidate Norbert Hofer. Photo: Reuters

The far-right appeared close to seizing the Austrian presidency last night, in an election result that will send shockwaves through Europe.

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Norbert Hofer, the gun-toting candidate of the Freedom Party, won almost twice as many votes as his nearest rival, according to exit polls. With just over half the votes counted, Mr Hofer was far out in front with 35pc.

The result could spell the end of the two-party system that has dominated Austria since the Second World War, with their candidates beaten into fourth and fifth place.

Mr Hofer appears to have ridden a wave of discontent over the refugee crisis, with voters flocking to the Freedom Party's anti-migrant message. He will now face his nearest challenger in a run-off vote set for May 22.

"Today political history is being written in Austria," Heinz-Christian Strache, the Freedom Party leader, said in a statement.

"One thing has become clear here - a huge and massive dissatisfaction with the government. I am convinced that as president, Norbert Hofer, will act as protector of the Austrian people."

The Austrian presidency is a largely ceremonial role, but Mr Hofer's dramatic success will be seized on as proof the Freedom Party can win power in general elections set for 2018.

That is a prospect that will be viewed with concern across Europe.

The far-right party first came to prominence under its former leader, Jorg Haider, who notoriously spoke out in praise of the Nazi SS, saying it "deserves every honour and recognition".

The Austrian establishment will still hope they can deny Mr Hofer the presidency by uniting behind his opponent in the run-off. But last night it was still not clear who that opponent would be.

With just over half the votes counted, the Green Party's ­Alexander van der Bellen and Imgard Griss, a former supreme court judge running as an independent, were tied for second place on around 20pc each.

They were so close that pollsters were predicting it would not be clear which of them had made it through to the run-off until postal votes were counted on Monday.

The result means that for the first time in post-war Austria, the president will not be from one of the two main parties. The Social Democrats and the People's Party, who between them have governed the country since 1945, often in coalition with each other, saw their ­candidates reduced to also-rans, on around 11pc each.

The forecasts were proved wrong. The final opinion polls had Mr Hofer in second place behind Mr van der Bellen, with only 24pc of the vote. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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