Austrian voters have sent a message that they are unwilling to allow their country to be swept up in the populist wave that has boosted far-right politicians to powerful positions in the U.S. and Europe.
On Sunday, one such politician, 45-year-old Freedom Party presidential nominee Norbert Hofer, was defeated by independent challenger Alexander Van der Bellen in Austria’s national election.
The 72-year-old Van der Bellen was backed by the country’s Green Party, of which he is a former leader. Now he will be Austria’s president. Bloomberg reported that Van der Bellen bested Hofer by 51.7 percent to 48.3 percent.
Sunday’s vote was a runoff that followed on another runoff held in May, in which Hofer scored nearly 50 percent of the vote and lost by a slim margin of 31,000 ballots, signaling the potential strength throughout the West of politicians who pushed anti-immigration and nationalist messages as key components of their platforms.
The Nationalist Party, which contested that prior runoff, saw Van der Bellen’s margin of victory rise this time around—challenging Hofer’s own suggestion, following the U.S. presidential election, that Donald Trump’s win might help propel him to victory.
The New York Times relayed more details following Van der Bellen’s win:
With 86 percent of the vote counted, Austrian state radio gave Mr. Bellen a lead of 6.6 percent. Mr. Van der Bellen’s supporters were predictably jubilant.
“He built a broad coalition,” said Alexandra Föderl-Schmid, editor in chief of the liberal daily Der Standard. Now, she said, Austrians will expect Mr. Van der Bellen to mend the rifts that appeared during months of bitter campaigning.
… Mr. Van der Bellen had appealed to Austrians to vote for reason over extremes. Mr. Hofer campaigned on an “Austria First!” slogan, and said he wanted to lead a country that was secure “for our children and grandchildren,” playing on fears of the tide of migrants and refugees that have entered Europe.
An array of establishment figures lined up behind Mr. Van der Bellen, but Mr. Hofer garnered support from mainstream conservatives in the People’s Party, which declined to throw its weight behind the former Greens leader.
Hofer conceded defeat through a media channel that has served many political players: Facebook.
—Posted by Kasia Anderson