Austria’s Far-Right May Live to See Another Day
Austria's far-right won a case that will allow them to contest the results of last month's presidential election.
Apparently Britain’s controversial vote last Thursday to leave the European Union wasn’t quite enough summer drama for the increasingly fractured bloc.
Last month, after far-right Austrian Norbert Hofer narrowly lost his country’s presidential election, he complained that the process was so flawed that he deserved a second chance. And on Friday, Austria’s highest court gave him what he asked for and ordered a runoff election that will likely take place in September or October.
Like those who campaigned for Britain to leave the European Union, Austria’s far-right Freedom Party gained much of its support on anti-immigrant, Eurosceptic platform. Unlike Britain’s leave campaign, Austria’s nationalist movement didn’t succeed at the ballot box, losing by the tiny margin of only 30,863 votes. According to their camp, that loss was due to widespread election fraud and general mismanagement of absentee ballots. Although Austria’s Constitutional Court admitted Friday that some election rules were broken in May, the decision did not state whether or not the election mismanagement actually influenced the outcome of the vote. For Hofer, the runoff election will be a chance to try to prove that it did.
“The decision I am announcing today has no winner and no loser, it has only one aim: to strengthen trust in the rule of law and democracy,” said Gerhard Holzinger, head of the Constitutional Court, when he made the decision public in Vienna on Friday.
Hofer called Friday’s decision a “difficult” one, but said that he has great faith in Austria’s rule of law. And Alexander Van der Bellen, the pro-EU Austrian Green Party candidate who took home the win last month, sounded unfazed by the court’s decision Friday. “Austria needs to be well represented in Europe and the world,” he told reporters after Holzinger’s announcement. “If we can do it once, we can do it again.”
If Hofer were to secure a win in the runoff, he would be the only far-right leader in an EU country, prompting fears he would also seek a referendum to remove Austria from the soon to be 27-state bloc. There are also fears he might be the first, but not the last, such figure: in France, support for Marine Le Pen continues to grow, leading to speculation she could one day lead the country. Le Pen has already called for France to hold a referendum, modeled on the British one, about leaving the EU.
Hofer’s Freedom Party was established by former Nazis and other right-wing Austrians in the 1950s, and his election campaign coincided with a surge in migrant and refugee arrivals in Austria, where some 90,000 have sought asylum in the past year, and close to a million others have passed through on their way to Germany.
Photo credit: Jan Hetfleisch/Getty Images