VIENNA: Austria’s anti-immigration far-right triumphed on Sunday in the first round of presidential elections, dealing a rude wake-up call to Vienna’s cosy political establishment two years before the next scheduled general election.
Norbert Hofer of the Freedom Party (FPOe) won 35.3 of the vote, projections showed, while candidates from the two governing parties failing to even make it into a second-round runoff on May 22, projections showed.
“This is the beginning of a new political era,” FPOe leader Heinz-Christian Strache said after what constitutes the best-ever result at federal level for the former party of the late, SS-admiring Joerg Haider.
“One thing has become clear here — a huge and massive dissatisfaction with the government… I am convinced that as president, Norbert Hofer, will act as protector of the Austrian people,” he said.
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).
The centre-right OeVP’s candidate Andreas Khol came fourth with 11.2 per cent, just ahead of SPOe’s Rudolf Hundstorfer on 10.9pc.
Facing Hofer on May 22 is likely to be Alexander van der Bellen, backed by the Greens, who garnered 21.3pc, or independent candidate Irmgard Griss, a former judge hoping to be Austria’s first female president, who won 18.7pc.
The only candidate who fared worse than the main parties’ candidates was Richard Lugner, an 83-year-old construction magnate and socialite married to a former Playboy model 57 years his junior, who won 2.3pc.Support for the two main parties, which have between them run Austria since 1945, has been sliding for years and in the last general election in 2013 they only just garnered enough support to re-form their “grand coalition”.
The phenomenon of the rise of fringe parties has been mirrored across the continent, including in Spain, Britain and Germany. “Like elsewhere in Europe, we are witnessing the downfall of the traditional parties,” political analyst Peter Hajek said.
Leading opinion polls ahead of 2018 general elections with more than 30 percent is the FPOe, boosted by Europe’s migrant crisis despite a firmer line in recent months from Chancellor Werner Faymann’s government.
Austria no longer has the lowest unemployment rate in the European Union and Faymann’s coalition, in power since 2008, has bickered over structural reforms. -AFP
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