Europe is watching closely as Austrians go to the polls in a presidential election run-off on Sunday. There is concern that the election could bring about the first far-right head of state in the European Union. Freedom Party candidate Norbert Hofer was virtually unknown on the international stage, and for that matter, not very well known in Austria before the migrant crisis exploded. In the first round of the presidential election Hofer won with 35 percent of the vote.
The first round result rattled observers across Europe. It signaled the end of the two-party system that has dominated Austrian politics since the end of World War II and indicated the widespread discontent and frustration that Austrians have regarding their government’s handling of the migration crisis. Austria has taken in 90,000 migrants last year at a time when unemployment numbers were starting to rise. Although the government eventually clamped down on immigration and asylum seekers, it was not enough to curb the rise of the far-right.
Hofer’s opponent is Alexander van der Bellen, a former Green Party leader who is running as an independent. Polls suggest the contest between the two will be close. The results of the first round came as a shock to the ruling Social Democrats and their coalition partner, the People’s Party. This will mark the first time since 1951 the head of state will not come from either party. Both parties are struggling to recover but neither will be able to reassert their influence until either the next round of parliamentary elections in 2018 or in the event of snap elections before that.
Following the election results tomorrow, I will post more on the race and the aftermath.