Austrian Government in Shock as Far-Right Triumps

Simon Sturdee, AFP, April 24, 2016

Austria’s government was licking its wounds Monday after a historic debacle that saw the opposition anti-immigrant far-right triumph in a presidential ballot two years before the next scheduled general election.

According to preliminary results, Norbert Hofer of the Freedom Party (FPOe) came a clear first with 36 percent of the vote, while candidates from the two governing parties failed to even make it into a runoff on May 22.

The result means that for the first time since 1945, Austria will not have a president backed by either Chancellor Werner Faymann’s Social Democrats (SPOe) or their centre-right coalition partners the People’s Party (OeVP).

“This is the beginning of a new political era,” FPOe leader Heinz-Christian Strache said after what constituted the best-ever result at federal level for the former party of the late Joerg Haider, calling it a “historic result”.

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Facing Hofer on May 22 is likely to be Alexander van der Bellen, backed by the Greens, who garnered 20 percent, ahead of third-place independent candidate Irmgard Griss, who won 18.5 percent.

Having a president in the Habsburg dynasty’s former palace in Vienna not from either of the two main parties could shake up the traditionally staid and consensus-driven world of Austrian politics.

The head of state’s powers are largely ceremonial, but not only. Hofer has threatened to fire the government, while van der Bellen has said he will refuse to appoint Strache chancellor if the FPOe wins elections scheduled for 2018.

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