Norbert Hofer, nominee of the Austrian Freedom Party for president, will get a second chance after being beaten by the Green Party backed independent candidate, Alexander Van der Bellen in a 50.3% to 49.7% election result in May. The Supreme Court found irregularities in 77,926 of the votes cast. Van der Bellen won the race by only 30,863 votes after mail in ballots were counted. The irregularities were largely related to the counting of those mail in ballots. If Hofer wins, he will be the first anti-European Union leader elected in a Western European country, and will signal even larger risk for the European Union as a going concern. The Wall Street Journal reports:
Mr. Hofer’s near-victory in May was one of this year’s most striking signals of European discontent with the pro-EU establishment. Now Mr. Hofer will have another chance of beating Mr. Van der Bellen and becoming the first Western European populist politician to ride the recent wave of voter anger over immigration and European integration to his country’s highest office.
Beyond ceremonial duties, Austria’s president has the power to dismiss the government—led by the chancellor—and call fresh parliamentary elections. Mr. Hofer ran an anti-immigration, anti-free-trade campaign and said he would consider calling early elections as president.
On Sunday, in the wake of the Brexit vote, Mr. Hofer said Austria should hold its ownreferendum on EU membership if the bloc failed to refocus on its original role as an economic and trade alliance within a year.
After the Constitutional Court read out Friday’s decision, Austrian political leaders scrambled to calm the public.
President Heinz Fischer said he expected the government to hold the rerun election by early October, adding the court’s ruling showed the world that Austria was able to respond responsibly when its government made mistakes.
“I would like to underscore that this should not be an occasion for emotions,” Chancellor Christian Kern, of the center-left Social Democrats, said. “This shows that our rule of law is robust and works excellently.”
A new election campaign now looms in a country where the refugee crisis has cast the political establishment in turmoil, echoing the issue’s role in fueling the growing success of anti-immigrant, populist movements across Europe in recent months.