The Austrian presidential election this year has certainly been a wild ride.
After incumbent president Heinz Fischer served the Austrian maximum of two terms, he stepped down, letting new candidates campaign for the important, but largely ceremonial position. After the first round, it was clear that in a historic first neither side bore the support and backing of the Social Democratic Party of Austria or the conservative People’s Party. So instead, the men going into round two had the support of the Greens and, frighteningly enough, the far-right Freedom Party. It couldn’t be a starker contrast; the Green candidate Alexander Van der Bellen is an outspoken federalist, a social liberal inspired by British thinker John Stuart Mill and fiercely against Russian expansionism. His erstwhile opponent, Norbert Hofer, instead is mildly Eurosceptic, harsh against refugees, an admirer of Margaret Thatcher and dabbles in Austrian irredentism over South Tyrol.
Too close for comfort
The first round saw the pair face off in which Hofer won a plurality with almost a third of the country voting for him, while only 21% voted for Van der Bellen. However, Hofer didn’t manage to get many of the other parties’ votes and for the second round the incredibly close election, decided by just 80 000 votes, went in Van der Bellen’s favour.
Alexander Van der Bellen (L) and Norbert Hofer (R)
The relief lasted only shortly though, because the Austrian high court decided that irregularities with the posted votes made the possibility of vote tampering too big and rendered the second round of voting null and void. In the weeks between the annulled election and the new one Europe trembled at the numbers which seemed to favour Hofer. Could Austria get its first far-right head of state since Hitler?
Alexander Van der Bellen’s new home; Hofburg Palace, Vienna
Miracle at Michaelerplatz
But our miracle happened and for once the progressive candidate beat the odds. Van der Bellen took home 54% of the vote, close but comfortably over Hofer’s 46%. This was a small, but very satisfying victory which hopefully signals more to come. The Austrian election signals that we can beat the far right and that their steam might be running out. Is this the first of many victories? Only time will tell.