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Austria - 2016 Presidential Election

Austrias anti-immigrant candidate, Norbert Hofer, failed in his bid to become the countrys first far right leader since World War Two. Alexander Van der Bellen won with 53.6 percent of the vote. 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. Hofers campaign said the former aeronautical engineer, who campaigned on an anti-immigrant, Euroskeptic platform, conceded defeat to his environmentalist opponent, Alexander Van Der Bellen, who ran as an independent. The bottom line is it did not quite work out, said Herbert Kickl, Hofers campaign manager. In this case, the establishment, which pitched in once again to block, to stonewall, and to prevent renewal, has won, Kickl said to Austrian broadcaster ORF after results were released.

The election was seen as a test for the strength of populist movements in Europe. Van der Bellen's victory on Sunday came as a huge blow to Europe's right-wing populist movements which were anticipating a boost ahead of the 2017 elections in France, Germany and the Netherlands. Austrian Chancellor and Social Democrat Christian Kern congratulated Van der Bellen shortly after the exit poll was announced. While the final result will not be official until absentee votes are counted, officials said the outstanding ballots would not change the outcome.

The December 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.

The President is directly elected by absolute majority popular vote in 2 rounds if needed, for a 6-year term, with eligibility for a second term. The last presidential election was held on 25 April 2010. Incumbent Heinz FISCHER was reelected with 79.3% of the vote, defeating Barbara ROSENKRANZ and Rudolf GEHRING. In 2016 the incumbent, Heinz Fischer, could not run for a third term.

On 24 April 2016 exit polls showed Norbert Hofer, the candidate of Austria's anti-immigration far-right Freedom Party, winning the first round of presidential elections, gathering more than 35 percent of the vote and leaving five rivals far behind, including nominees of the ruling governing coalition. Norbert Hofer packs a Glock - sometimes even when he is going about his work as a member of parliament - because, he says, he is afraid of refugees. He wanted Austria to leave the EU, demands a ban on head scarves for women and he would kick all foreigners out of the country's social system.

Green candidate Alexander Van der Bellen advanced to the second and final round of elections to be held May 23. He will face FPOe's Norbert Hofer. Van der Bellen came second with 21.1 percent of the votes. The economic scholar had served in the Green party for 11 years.

The two candidates nominated by the ruling parties failed to make it to the runoff to be held on May 22, early exit polls showed. With more than 50 percent of the vote tallied, both candidates from the ruling coalition, center-left Social Democrat Rudolph Hundstorfer and centrist People's Party nominee Andreas Khol, were shown with about 11 percent of the vote.

The projected win by Norbert Hofer was his party's best showing since its founding in 1945 and was widely seen as reflecting rising voter alarm over Europe's migrant influx and dissatisfaction with the European Union's role in the crisis. The result means that for the first time since 1945, Austria will not have a president backed by either the Social Democrats (SPOe) or the center-right People's Party (OeVP).

Although the post of president in Austria is largely ceremonial, the electorate apparently sees this vote as a way to let their displeasure known. The new president might make use of some of the considerable powers afforded to the head of state under Austrias constitution that until now have been not been used. In theory the Austrian president can fire the government as Hofer threatened to do if elected or dissolve parliament.

Austrians were upset with the government's handling of the refugee crisis; and they are skeptical that the center-left/center-right coalition can tackle any of the nation's growing list of problems. Those include a broken education system, rising unemployment and a budget deficit that is threatening to explode due to a mishandling of a banking crisis.

Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann quit 09 May 2016, bowing to intense pressure two weeks after the opposition anti-immigration far-right dealt his coalition a historic blow in the first round of presidential elections. The center-left Faymann, 56, chancellor since 2008, said in a statement that he no longer had strong backing in his party, the Social Democrats (SPOe). As a result of this insufficient support I am drawing the consequences and resign my functions as party leader and chancellor, effective today, he said. The SPOe and its coalition partner since 2008, the center-right Peoples Party (OeVP), had dominated Austrian politics since World War II but their support has been sliding in recent years.

It was initially unclear who would succeed Faymann. The popular mayor of Vienna, Michael Haeupl, took over from Faymann on an interim basis as party chief, saying the SPOe needed a phase of reflection. Christian Kern, currently the head of the national railways company, and Gerhard Zeiler, former chief of national broadcaster ORF, had been touted as possible replacements. The ruling "grand coalition" of Social Democrats and the People's Party have a mandate until 2018. Given their lack of popularity, it is not likely they will call early elections.

On May 13, 2016 Austria's ruling Social Democratic Party settled on the head of the nation's railway network as the country's next chancellor. Christian Kern was widely admired for turning around the national rail company's fortunes. Former Green Party leader Alexander van der Bellen edged ahead of Freedom Party candidate Norbert Hofer in Austria's presidential election on 22 May 2016. The latest projections showed Van der Bellen at 50.1 percent, with around 72 percent of votes counted, according to the SORA Institute. Early projections had given FP's (Freedom Party of Austria) Norbert Hofer the lead for becoming Austria's first far-right president, with 50.9 per cent of the votes, according to pollsters of the ARGE Wahlen group. With a margin of error between 1.6 and 1.8 percent the numbers remained too narrow to call a definite winner. Freedom Party's candidate Norbert Hofer narrowly lost the election to challenger Alexander Van der Bellen by just over 30,000 votes, out of more than 4.5 million ballots

On 01 July 2016 Austria's constitutional court accepted a challenge filed by the anti-immigration Freedom Party over the run-off presidential election on May 22, and ordered the election to be held again, expected in September or October. Constitutional Court President Gerhart Holzinger said in a statement released here that the vote will be held nationwide, not simply in some electoral districts as media had speculated may happen. No evidence of vote manipulation has been found by the court, but a number of instances of lax vote counting, particularly in the postal vote system where envelopes were often opened early and not in the presence of relevant authorities, were what led the court to its decision.

Hofer's Freedom Party does not explicitly want an 'Auxit', but has said the party will push for drastic reforms of the bloc and has threatened to hold a referendum to also leave the EU if its demands are not met. Hofer's election would mark the first far-right politician to actually take power in a European Union country, a prospect frightening to liberals and EU supporters across the continent.

On 04 December 2016 Norbert Hofer hoped to ride a global wave of insurgent populism to win the Austrian presidency and become the first far-right head of state in Europe since World War II. Speaking in November 2016, he borrowed a key theme from Trump's campaign, saying that that whenever the elites distance themselves from voters, those elites will be voted out of office.

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 wanted 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 expressed their support for Hofer.

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