Polls Open in Austrian Presidential Election

Polls Open in Austrian Presidential ElectionPolls Open in Austrian Presidential Election

Austrians have headed to the polls in a tight race between an anti-immigration Freedom Party candidate and a Green party-backed economics professor.

The election could result in the EU’s first far-right head of state, DPA reported.

Voting stations in Austria opened early on Sunday in a key and polarizing presidential runoff election.

The election pits 72-year old Green-backed economics professor Alexander van der Bellen against 45-year old Norbert Hofer, the far-right Freedom Party (FPO) candidate amid Europe’s worst migrant crisis since WWII.

First results are expected around 15:00 UTC with final results set to be announced on Monday after all postal votes have been tallied.

A record 14% of Austria’s 6.4 million eligible voters will be casting their ballots by mail this year and could prove to be a tie-breaker in an expectedly tight race.

In last month’s first round of voting, Hofer unexpectedly beat his rival by 35% to 21%.

The result signified a historic shift for Austria. For the first time since 1945, Austria will not have a president backed by either the Social Democrats (SPO) or the center-right People’s Party (OVP).

Although no official surveys were released before the vote, Austrian betting agencies gave Hofer a slight lead over Van der Bellen.

“I will be your new president, a patron for Austria,” the far-right presidential hopeful told an enthusiastic crowd at the Viktor-Adler Square in Vienna on Friday.

Hofer’s campaign has been openly anti-immigration and anti-EU.

Van der Bellen, who has been backed by the new Chancellor Christian Kern, cautioned that Hofer’s presidency would threaten democracy.

“As you know, I am 72 years old and I’ve experienced how Austria rose from the ruins of World War II, caused by the madness of nationalism,” Van der Bellen said.

There are concerns outside Austria from other members of the 28-nation European Union that Sunday’s election could produce the bloc’s first far-right, populist head of state.

The Austrian president traditionally has a largely ceremonial role, but concerns have grown that the winner may use some of the position’s never-before-used-powers, such as that of dismissing the Cabinet.

Hofer has previously said that as president, he would have already dismissed the government over its handling of the migration crisis, but would not do so immediately if he became head of state.