Austria’s second round of voting has taken place to elect a new president. Whilst the role is mostly symbolic, the president does have the power to dissolve parliament – something the Freedom Party’s Norbert Hofer has claimed he would do if he wins.
The polls from Sunday’s election show the right-wing Freedom Party’s Hofer having a 1.9% lead over the rival, Alexander Van der Bellen, who is running as an independent candidate. Roughly 750,000 postal votes from approximately 12% of Austria’s 6.5 million voters are due to be counted on Monday. Unexpectedly, Hofer managed to win the first round of the election on the 24th April with 35% of the vote. Van der Bellen came second with 21%.
The strong win for a candidate labelled as “far-right” caused a poltical shockwave in the land-locked country – especially after the candidate declared he would dissolve parliament before the 2018 elections.
The Freedom Party was founded in 1956 as a successor to the short-lived Federation of independents, and by Anton Reinthaller, former Nazi Minister of Agriculture and SS Officer. The populist party focuses on anti-immigration, national conservatism, and is heavily sceptical of the European Union.
Austria has seen over 90,000 migrants and refugees claim asylum in the last 12 months, which accounts for nearly one percent of the country’s entire population, causing anti-immigrant sentiment to run high. The Freedom Party used this to its advantage and ran an anti-immigration campaign.
The selection of one independent candidate and one right-wing candidate represents a historic shift in the make-up of Austrian politics. For the first time since the Second World War, both of centrist parties were knocked out in the first round of voting. Chancellor Werner Faymann resigned after he lost the support of his centre-left Social Democratic Party colleagues – the party that has seen decades of governing Austria.
If Hofer does win, it’s expected to make European leaders uneasy. Right-wing parties have gained momentum at recent elections throughout the continent.