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AUSTRIA

Left-leaning Van der Bellen wins Austria's presidential election

Roland Schlager, APA/AFP | Independent candidate Alexander Van der Bellen leaves a poling booth after voting on December 4, 2016.
3 min

Independent candidate Alexander Van der Bellen, a pro-EU leftist who preached moderation, has won Austria's presidential election on Sunday over right-wing populist Norbert Hofer, preliminary results show.

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A former leading member of the Green Party, Van der Bellen was the hope of Austrians who wanted to stop Hofer, a leader of the anti-migrant and anti-EU Freedom Party.

The results, released shortly after the polls closed Sunday, showed Van der Bellen with 53.5 percent of the vote to Hofer's 46.4 percent. While the final result will not be official until absentee votes are counted on Monday, officials said the outstanding ballots would not change the outcome.

In a statement released shortly after the preliminary resuts were announced, French President François Hollande said, "The Austrian people have made a choice for Europe and for openness."

Austria's presidency is a mostly ceremonial post, but Sunday's election was being watched as a barometer of how populists in other European Union countries might fare in coming months, including France's National Front leader Marine Le Pen, who is expected to vie for the presidency in 2017.

Sunday's election was the re-run of a May vote that Van der Bellen won by less than 1 percentage point. A new vote had to be held following a court ruling that annulled the first election after Hofer's Freedom Party claimed widespread irregularities.

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In comments on Sunday, Van der Bellen noted the worldwide attention Austria's election was receiving.

"What happens here today has relevance for all of Europe," he said before casting his ballot.

Reporting earlier in the day from Vienna, FRANCE 24’s Jessica Saltz said the Brexit vote and the US elections had given new hope to Hofer's camp. “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 believed that this would galvanise their supporters to turn up today and cast their ballot for Norbert Hofer."

Other populist politicians who want their countries to leave the European Union were supportive of Hofer as they look ahead to elections they will face themselves next year. Both France's Le Pen and anti-immigrant politician Geert Wilders of the Netherlands tweeted their support for Hofer.

For his part, Hofer struck a more conciliatory tone as he showed up to vote on Sunday. "I want to commit myself to changing this union in a positive way. And I don't want Austria to leave the European Union, that I have to say very clearly," he said Sunday in his home village of Pinkafeld, south of Vienna. "[But] our strength is not to be an amorphous entity, our strength is diversity, a diverse European Union."

With most Austrians critical of the EU but not to the point of wanting to leave it, the Freedom Party no longer suggests that Austria would be better off without Brussels. Instead, it is pushing for an EU of loosely allied members mostly sharing economic ties instead of a close political union.

(FRANCE 24 with AP)

 

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