segunda-feira, 5 de dezembro de 2016
Far-right loses in Austria
Far-right loses in Austria
Liberal Alexander Van der Bellen wins presidency, beating Freedom Party’s Norbert Hofer.
By FLORIAN EDER 12/4/16, 5:47 PM CET Updated 12/5/16, 7:30 AM CET
VIENNA — The populist winning streak ended in Austria — for a few hours, at least.
Following Britain’s vote to leave the EU in June and Donald Trump’s election stunner last month in America, the victory of Alexander Van der Bellen in Austria’s presidential vote on Sunday comes as something of a surprise, even if the former Green party leader had won the same vote in May, and as a relief to the West’s beleaguered liberals.
Van der Bellen beat the Freedom Party’s Norbert Hofer with 51.7 percent of the vote, giving him a lead of more than 100,000 votes, according to Austria’s interior ministry. This tally doesn’t include postal ballots, which in May favored Van der Bellen.
Hofer, who was trying to become the first head of state in Europe from a far-right party since before World War II, conceded defeat in the late afternoon, writing on his Facebook page: “I am endlessly sad that it didn’t work out. I’d have loved to take care of Austria. I congratulate Alexander Van der Bellen on his success.”
The elections were a rerun of May’s poll, which Van der Bellen won by a narrower margin than apparently on Sunday. Following a challenge to the result by the Freedom Party on technical irregularities in the vote count, Austria’s highest court ordered a rerun of the election.
Establishment at the ramparts
Although the polls were tight ahead of Sunday’s vote, the political establishment not just in Austria but across Europe braced itself for a potential double whammy: An unprecedented victory for the far-right in Austria, and a referendum in Italy the same day that could topple the government of Matteo Renzi. Italians rejected the referendum, forcing Renzi to resign and giving a fillip to populist forces there.
Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, extended his congratulations to Van der Bellen. “At a time when we are faced with many difficult challenges, the continued constructive contribution of Austria to finding common European solutions and keeping our European unity will remain essential,” Tusk wrote on Sunday night.
Though analysts speculated that Trump’s victory in America would make it easier for Austrians to feel comfortable about backing an anti-establishment candidate, many voters were worried that a vote for Hofer would hurt Austria’s reputation abroad, ORF radio reported. The Kronen-Zeitung tabloid devoted two pages on Saturday to a story that hundreds of foreign correspondents were accredited to cover the elections on Sunday.
The dynamics in this Austrian elections were both uniquely local as well as relevant to other EU countries. National elections are coming up next year in the Netherlands, France and Germany, in which anti-establishment, Euroskeptical parties are expected to do better than ever.
Last year’s migration crisis fed support for the Freedom Party, a presence on the Austrian scene since the 1950s, particularly in rural areas. Van der Bellen, who emerged from a small leftist party, could count on the support of both the mainstream center-left Social Democrats and the center-right People’s Party (or ÖVP), their conservative junior partners in the ruling grand coalition. Both parties failed to get their candidate through to the final round of the presidential election.
“We came up short,” Hofer’s campaign manger Herbert Kickl said at the Freedom Party’s electoral headquarters on Sunday night. “The establishment succeeded in blocking change one more time,” he added, but indicated that “other opportunities” for his party to take power lay ahead.
The presidency is a largely ceremonial post in Austria, and elections for parliament are scheduled for 2018.
Ahead of that vote, the Social Democrats and the ÖVP have to weigh whether to open themselves to a possible coalition with the Freedom Party in the future, or stick with the grand coalition. By denying Hofer the presidency, which could have prompted earlier parliamentary elections, Austrian voters have delayed that decision for another two years. Starting in June 2015, the Freedom Party has broken a tie with the two mainstream parties and widened its lead in the polls.
‘Abyss of hatred’
The past year’s aggressive campaigning has left this middle European country of 8 million tired and divided. “All has been said”, wrote Gerold Riedmann, the editor of regional Vorarlberger Nachrichten. He left the rest of the column blank.
At a Jesuit church service on Sunday morning, the priest said in his sermon that Austria had looked into “the abyss of hatred” and seen “mountains of innuendos” that, he said, the country needed to overcome.
“I’m as glad as many Austrians are that the campaign is over, a campaign that has been fought with hardness and wasn’t always a model,” said Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern, a Social Democrat.
Urban, liberal Austria saved Van der Bellen. The electoral map glowed blue, the color of the Freedom Party, everywhere except in and around bigger cities such as Vienna, Graz and Salzburg.
Van der Bellen’s supporters had taken over Vienna with stickers reading “more than ever, VDB” (it rhymes in German) on almost any possible surface — even in men’s rooms of the capital’s cafés. Projections on Sunday gave him almost two thirds of the vote in the capital.
Van der Bellen won May’s vote by some 30,000, before the courts overturned it citing irregularities.
Austria’s Interior Minister Wolfgang Sobotka, who belongs to the ÖVP, told reporters that “there are no signs of irregularities whatsoever.”
This article was updated with the results of the Italian constitutional referendum.