Austria Elections 2016: Alexander Van der Bellen Wins Presidency
Independent Alexander Van der Bellen has won Austria’s presidency after beating the Freedom Party’s Norbert Hofer by just 31,000 votes among the 4.64 million cast in May 22 election.
The victor accepted there was a “rift” but said: “We are two sides of the same coin. Together we make up Austria.”
Far-right Norbert Hofer had run on a Eurosceptic, anti-immigration platform.
If Norbert Hofer had won, he would have become the first far-right head of state of a EU nation.
In his victory speech, Alexander Van der Bellen, a pro-EU candidate backed by the Greens, said he accepted that many people believed that they were not being heard.
Austria’s newly-elected president said: “We need a different culture of dialogue and a political system which deals with people’s fears and anger.”
Alexander Van der Bellen, 72, said he would “work towards winning the trust of Norbert Hofer’s voters” and try to be “a non-partisan president for all the people in Austria”.
He added: “There’s been a lot of talk about this country’s rifts. But I think you can also interpret the split as a sign that we are two sides of the same coin and each side is as important as the other.”
Austria’s Chancellor Christian Kern said the vote was “worryingly close… and therefore it is of particular importance to us that… no voter feels like they have lost.”
Mainstream European politicians expressed relief at the result. Many nations have seen a surge in nationalist and anti-immigration parties amid the migrant crisis and economic uncertainty.
The Austrian presidency is largely a ceremonial post. But the president can dissolve the lower house of parliament and call elections without the need for permission from the ruling party.
Norbert Hofer said on his Facebook page it was a “sad day” but added: “Please don’t be disheartened. The effort in this election campaign is not wasted, but is an investment for the future.”
Alexander Van der Bellen is the first environmental activist to become Austrian president.