Austria’s government was licking its wounds on Monday after a historic triumph for the anti-Muslim immigration Freedom Party in a presidential ballot. It won more than a third of the vote in Sunday’s election and will face an independent in next month’s run-off, dumping the country’s two main (liberal) parties from the post for the first time.
The Guardian (h/t Susan K) Slowly but surely, the political tides are turning in favour of Austria’s rightwing populist Freedom party. Thanks to the impact of Europe’s Muslim refugee and migrant crisis, and thanks to declining public confidence in the two mainstream parties that have dominated Austrian politics since the second world war, the Freedom party is top of the opinion polls.
It was the Freedom Party’s best result in a national election after a campaign that focused on the impact of the crisis caused by the arrival of approximately 100,000 Muslim asylum seekers in Austria since last summer.
Norbert Hofer, who ran on an anti-Muslim immigrant and anti-Europe platform, won 36.4% of the vote to become head of state. He will face Alexander Van der Bellen, a former Green party figurehead, who won 20.4%, according to official preliminary results.
While the presidency is largely a ceremonial role, the fact that neither of the main ruling parties will be battling for the post on 22 May marks a major change in Austrian politics – as well as the rising role of the far-right in Europe.
The president is head of state, swears in the chancellor, has the authority to dismiss the cabinet and is commander in chief of the military. The election outcome was “a resounding slap in the face” for the government coalition, said Wolfgang Bachmayer, who founded market research institute OGM.
Around 70% of eligible voters cast their ballots, a big turnout compared with around 50% six years ago when Social Democrat Heinz Fischer, now 77, was elected for his second term. He could not run for a third term.
Peter McDonald, general secretary of co-ruling People’s party acknowledged the scale of the defeat after coming fifth in the poll, with just 11.2% of the vote. “We have experienced a landslide that should give the entire political centre food for thought,” he said.
Should Hofer get the top job, he could push to bring forward a parliamentary election due to take place in 2018 as support for his party has been growing. Polls show the Freedom party above 30%, while the coalition parties would struggle to get a combined majority.
Showing the far-right’s growing confidence in Europe, Marine Le Pen, leader of France’s National Front, hailed a “beautiful result”, writing on Twitter: “Bravo to the Austrian people”.