Austria has rejected far-right candidate Norbert Hofer in favor of former Green Party leader Alexander Van der Bellen, after an original vote in May was annulled due to voting irregularities. While Van der Bellen won the election by a small margin of only about 30,000 votes in May, his margin of victory was significantly wider in Sunday’s vote, with the outcome clear only minutes after the last polls closed. With nearly 100 percent of the vote counted, Van der Bellen won 53.3 of percent of votes to Hofer’s 46.6 percent.
For observers around the world, the victory of the Austrian candidate who promised to be an “open-minded, liberal-minded and above all a pro-European president” was a much needed rebuke of the rise of right-wing populism around the globe, evidenced by Donald Trump’s victory in the US elections, the Brexit referendum, and the rise of politicians like France’s Marine Le Pen. The results of the Austrian election offer a reversal, or at least an interruption, in what has seemed like a string of defeats for liberalism, pluralism, and even democracy in general.
Hofer conceded defeat soon after the exit polls closed, saying “I congratulate Alexander Van der Bellen for his success and ask all Austrians to pull together and work together,” commenting that he would like to run again in six years.
Herbert Kickl, secretary of Hofer’s Freedom Party, who has also served as Hofer’s campaign manager, took a more contentious tone, saying:
“The bottom line is it didn’t quite work out. In this case the establishment – which pitched in once again to block, to stonewall and to prevent renewal – has won.”
Despite the turnaround from recent trends that Green Party politician Werner Kogler described as “small global turning of the tide in these uncertain, not to say hysterical and even stupid times,” the breakdown of the support for each candidate showed similarities to that of the Trump and Brexit votes. Van der Bellen’s support was particularly concentrated in urban areas such as Vienna, where he won all 23 of the city’s districts on Sunday. All told, Van der Bellen won 65 percent of votes in Vienna, showing that the rural and urban divide laid bare in the Brexit and Trump votes still applies here.
A win for far-right Hofer in Austria would have further emboldened like-minded candidates in France and Germany, where the Front National and the Alternative für Deutschland respectively have been carefully watching the Austrian election ahead of their own general elections in 2017.