All You Need to Know About Austria’s Presidential Election

EuroNews, November 28, 2016

Europe could lurch further to the right when Austrians go to the polls on Sunday, December 4, to choose a new president.

Who are the candidates?

Far-right candidate Nobert Hofer, of the Freedom Party, will go head-to-head against Alexander Van der Bellen, a former leader of the Greens Party.

Campaigning on a pro-EU platform, and backed by the Green party, Alexander Van der Bellen described the presidential poll in May as a choice between “a co-operative and an authoritarian style.”

Norbert Hofer is according to some descriptions the “friendly face” of the far-right Freedom Party. The well-dressed, softly spoken, self proclaimed Margaret Thatcher fan has pushed traditional anti-immigration themes with a smile while using more moderate rhetoric than the party leader Heinz-Christian Strache.

Déjà-vu?

Yes. Hofer lost out to Van der Bellen in May, 2016, by 31,000 votes.

But the result was cancelled when Austria’s constitutional court ruled there were counting irregularities.

What are the key issues?

Hofer has focussed on the EU’s migration crisis and called for a ban on economic migrants.

Austria – a nation of 8.7 million – has taken in more than 120,000 migrants from the Middle East, Africa and Asia since last year, bearing much of the burden of the influx together with Germany and Sweden.

Van der Bellen has called for faster integration of recognised asylum seekers.

The economy is also an important factor.

What would a Hofer victory mean for Europe?

Hofer has stopped short of calling for Austria to leave the EU, but would call for a referendum if Turkey joined or Brussels tried to centralise more power.

While the role of president in Austria is largely ceremonial, political analysts say that if Hofer wins the presidency, this could lead to early parliamentary elections and an end to the centrist, pro-European coalition that has dominated Austrian politics for decades.

What do the polls say?

The Freedom Party has led opinion polls for months, reaching scores of up to 35 percent and leaving the centrists far behind.

A Eurobarometer survey this spring on views of the EU revealed 37 percent of Austrians surveyed had a negative outlook on Brussels, the third-highest level in the bloc.

However experts say despite rising Euroscepticism, voters show little support for leaving the EU.

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