Friday 28 April 2017

The man who could today become Europe's first far-right leader since WWII

Austrian far-right Freedom Party (FPOe) presidential candidate Norbert Hofer reacts in Pinkafeld, Austria, December 4, 2016. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger
Austrian far-right Freedom Party (FPOe) presidential candidate Norbert Hofer reacts in Pinkafeld, Austria, December 4, 2016. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger

Heather Saul

THE year 2016 has brought with it Brexit, the election of Donald Trump, the rise of nationalism, of Euroscepticism. By Sunday evening, 2016 could also be the year when Europe saw the first far-right head of state elected since the Second World War.

The gravity of this sentence sits heavily, and it should. While Norbert Hofer’s powers as President of Austria would be largely ceremonial, the symbolism of his victory cannot be underestimated.

Mr Hofer, 45, represents the right-wing, populist Freedom Party of Austria (FPO), a party founded in 1956 by former Nazi party members.

Unlike dithering, capricious politicians who double back on their policies without a moment’s notice, Hofer’s stances are clear. He’s anti-immigration, pro-guns. These two stances combine, as he advocates that members of the public arm themselves with guns in reaction to the refugee crisis. He has displayed his own 9mm Glock pistol at rallies and shares pictures of himself and his four children at shooting ranges.

His other stances are largely anti: anti-Islam, anti-globalisation, anti-establishment. Dubbed “the Austrian Trump”, he has a high chance of winning the election. The contest, a re-run of a vote held on 22 May, between Mr Hofer and left-wing Green party candidate Alexander Van der Bellen, 72, is currently close to call.

The former aeronautical engineer is cheery and charismatic. Like Mr Trump did so successfully before him, he distanced himself from an out of touch political elite in his campaign, presenting himself as one of the “normal people”. Much like the US President-elect, he capitalised on fears surrounding the refugee crisis and immigration to boost his popularity.

He speaks beneath a backdrop bearing the slogan “your homeland needs you now”.

On asylum seekers

“These people aren't working (in Austria) so I say give these asylum seekers the skills so they can rebuild in their own countries. Now that would be a meaningful task.”

On the ‘homeland’

“Those who do not value our country, who fight for Islamic State, or who rape women, I say to these people: this is not your homeland. You cannot stay in Austria.”

On banning the burqa

“I think [a ban] makes sense.”

On Islam

"Islam has no place in Austria."

On himself

“I am just a normal guy - I am not far-right.”

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