In an election sure to reverberate across Europe, Austrian voters are choosing between a right-wing populist and a left-leaning former politician for their next president.
Austria's presidency is a mostly ceremonial post. But the Sunday election is being watched as a barometer of how populists in other European Union countries may fare in coming months.
The Austrian vote pits Alexander Van der Bellen against Norbert Hofer. A former leading member of the Greens Party, Van der Bellen is the hope of Austrians who want to stop Hofer, a popular leader of the anti-migrant and anti-EU Freedom Party.
“Since May, the Brexit vote in the UK and the election of Donald Trump in the US have shown the power of the populist vote and certainly there are many members of the Freedom Party who believe that this will galvanise their supporters to turn up today and cast their ballot for Norbert Hofer”, says Jessica Saltz, FRANCE 24’s correspondent in Vienna.
'Palpable anxiety in Europe'
Populist groups across Europe, on the right and the left, have benefitted from a growing sense of unease about globalisation, multiculturalism, rising inequality and austerity cuts.
The Austrian vote also comes on the same day as a high-stakes referendum in Italy, which could claim the scalp of its prime minister and spark more chaos in a bloc already weakened by Britain's decision in June to quit the EU.
"Nationwide votes in Austria and Italy on December 4 are causing palpable anxiety in Europe that... this will be the day when the sky starts falling," the Financial Times wrote recently.
One worrying aspect for EU decision-makers is that Hofer's win might also pave the way for a return to government of the poll-topping FPOe, founded by ex-Nazis.
Most polling stations opened at 7 a.m. and will close at 5 p.m. local time. Results are expected late Sunday, but the winner may not be known until absentee ballots are counted on Monday.
(FRANCE 24 with AP, AFP)
Date created : 2016-12-04