domingo, 22 de maio de 2016
Greens could deprive Austrian right of presidency / Presidenciais austríacas serão decididas por voto postal
Greens could deprive Austrian right of presidency
Freedom Party’s Norbert Hofer, who wants a tougher line on refugees, still hopes to build on his 1st-round win.
By MATTHEW KARNITSCHNIG 5/22/16, 5:41 PM CET Updated 5/23/16, 2:11 AM CET
VIENNA — Austria’s presidential run-off Sunday resulted in an effective draw, with both the right-wing and Green candidate projected to win 50 percent of the vote, leaving the final outcome dependent on the postal ballot tally due late Monday.
Most analysts believe the postal vote, with a record 885,000 ballots issued, will favor the Greens’ Alexander Van der Bellen, the favorite of the higher-educated, pro-Europe elements of the electorate.
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Norbert Hofer, the candidate of the right-wing Freedom Party (FPÖ), led the official preliminary count, which doesn’t include the the postal ballots, with a total of 52 percent, compared to 48 percent for Van der Bellen.
The projections, calculated for state broadcaster ORF by the Sora polling institute, include estimates for all votes, however, reflecting a statistical dead heat between the two, with the Green candidate ahead by a mere 3,000 votes. Both camps celebrated the day as a victory, with Van der Bellen’s supporters chanting his nickname, Sascha, at a raucous party at a palace in downtown Vienna.
A Van der Bellen win, even by a slim margin, would count as a significant upset after Hofer led the first round by a margin of 14 percentage points in a crowded field. With the rest of the vote divided between four other candidates, Van der Bellen’s chances of winning a majority appeared slim.
“Few believed we could catch up,” Van der Bellen, a 72-year-old economics professor and former Green leader said Sunday evening, adding that he was inspired by the broad support he enjoyed in the electorate.
Whoever wins, the vote underscores the degree to which the the country — one of Europe’s wealthiest — is divided across a range of issues from refugee policy to Austria’s relationship with the European Union. Though the post of president is a largely ceremonial role, the election was widely seen as a referendum on the country’s direction.
In that regard, the poll highlights Austrians’ deep frustration with nearly a decade of grand coalition rule, which many observers blame for the country’s polarization. Never before have candidates outside the country’s two dominant blocs — the Social Democrats (SPÖ) and the People’s Party (ÖVP) — won so many votes. As such, the result gives the Greens and the Freedom Party a degree of legitimacy they have never before enjoyed.
That’s particularly significant for the Freedom Party, long castigated at home and abroad as a dangerous far-right movement. Party officials were quick to argue that win or lose, with 50 percent of the vote, the Freedom Party is now part of the political mainstream.
“It is a day of great gratitude and happiness,” Freedom Party leader Heinz-Christian Strache said.
As other European countries, from Germany to France to Scandinavia face similar political pressures around refugees and the role of Islam, the bigger question is whether Austria is a bellwether for similar upheaval across the Continent. That’s especially a cause for concern in Germany, a country with strong cultural and historic ties to Austria, where the upstart Alternative für Deutschland party has been steadily gaining ground with a platform similar to the Freedom Party’s.
With Sunday’s result hanging in the balance, the candidates avoided the bravado of the campaign trail and struck a friendlier tone. Van der Bellen vowed to”repair the divisions,” if elected.
Norbert Hofer prevailed in the first round of the presidential poll
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“The person who wins will have the task of reuniting Austria,” said Hofer, 45, a trained engineer turned Freedom Party standard bearer.
The conciliatory tone stood in stark contrast to the vitriol of the campaign, the most contentious in Austria since Kurt Waldheim, a former UN General Secretary accused of hiding his past in the Wehrmacht, ran in 1986. Memories of the international censure Austria faced after Waldheim was elected, as well as the isolation the country encountered after the Freedom Party joined the government in a junior role in 2000, appear to have driven many voters into Van der Bellen’s camp.
During the campaign, Hofer caricatured Van der Bellen’s backers, a group that included many prominent Austrian personalities, from Hollywood actor Christoph Waltz to local business leaders, as “haute volée.” In a country where longstanding class divisions, delineated by education and dialect, persist, Hofer’s overtures to what he called the regular folk resonated far beyond the party’s traditional right-wing base.
Hofer, virtually unknown until a few months ago, won the first round last month by a wide margin, on the back of growing frustration with the ruling center-left Social Democrats and center-right People’s Party. Economically speaking, Austria is much better off than most European countries. The unemployment rate, despite recent increases, remains one of the lowest in the EU. Nevertheless, many Austrians see the country’s prosperity threatened by the refugees, the eurozone bailouts and globalization. A clear majority of Austrians say they are disenchanted with the status quo in the country. Many also blame the EU, a favorite target of the FPÖ.
Senior European politicians, including Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, had encouraged Austrians to vote against Hofer, whose party has long taken a skeptical view of Europe.
The Freedom Party, which has led national polls in Austria for months, has also seized on the refugee crisis, demanding that the government effectively seal its border to refugees and send many of those already here back.
Austria took in about 90,000 refugees last year, among the highest number per capita in Europe. But, under growing public pressure, the government changed course late last year, imposing border controls and pushing for the closure of the so-called Balkan route along which migrants traveled from Greece to northern Europe.
The reversal only emboldened the FPÖ, however, which took credit for the government’s shift. Hofer’s first-round win prompted the resignation of Social Democrat Chancellor Werner Faymann earlier this month.
His replacement, Christian Kern, previously head of the national railway, has promised a radical break with the past.
“If we don’t comprehend that this is our last chance, the two big parties are going to disappear,” he said upon taking office last week. “If we continue like this, we only have a few more months until we completely lose the trust of the people.”