Unity Call After Far Right Defeat in Austria

Unity Call After Far Right Defeat in AustriaUnity Call After Far Right Defeat in Austria

Austria’s new president has vowed to listen to the people’s “fear and anger” after his far-right opponent narrowly missed out on a landmark victory.

Independent Alexander Van der Bellen beat the Freedom Party’s Norbert Hofer by just 31,000 votes among the 4.64 million cast in Sunday’s election.

The victor accepted there was a “rift” but said: “We are two sides of the same coin. Together we make up Austria.” Mainstream European politicians expressed relief at the result, BBC reported.

If he had won, Hofer would have become the first far-right head of state of a European Union nation.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said all of Europe was “breathing more easily’’. And French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said it was a “relief” to see Austrians “reject populism and extremism”.

Hofer had run on a Eurosceptic, anti-immigration platform. Many nations have seen a surge in nationalist and anti-immigration parties amid the migrant crisis and economic uncertainty.

In his victory speech, Van der Bellen, a pro-EU candidate backed by the Greens, said he accepted that many people believed that they were not being heard.

Van der Bellen, 72, said he would “work towards winning the trust of Norbert Hofer’s voters” and try to be “a non-partisan president for all the people in Austria”.

The Austrian presidency is largely a ceremonial post. But the president can dissolve the lower house of parliament and call elections without the need for permission from the ruling party.

Hofer said on his Facebook page (in German) it was a “sad day” but added: “Please don’t be disheartened. The effort in this election campaign is not wasted, but is an investment for the future.”

Van der Bellen and Hofer were contesting the runoff after the candidates of the two parties that have dominated Austrian politics since World War Two were eliminated.

Opinion polls suggest that if parliamentary elections were held now, the Freedom Party would win. The next polls are scheduled for 2018.


Alexander Van der Bellen