The two parties that have ruled Austria since the end of the Second World War came in fourth and fifth in Sunday’s election for the country’s largely ceremonial Presidency. The Wall Street Journal reports:
Preliminary results published by the Austrian interior ministry, which didn’t include mail-in ballots, showed that Norbert Hofer, from the anti-immigrant Freedom Party, which is known by its German initials FPÖ, with 36.4% of the vote.
Alexander Van der Bellen, a 72-year-old economist and former spokesman for the Greens who took a pro-refugee stance during the campaign, secured nearly 20.4% of the vote, according to the ministry. Mr. Van der Bellen, himself a child of refugee parents, is opposed to all restrictions on asylum seekers.
Candidates from the Social Democrats and Austrian People’s Party, which together form the current coalition government, each received around 11% of the vote.
Irmgard Griss, a retired president of the Austrian Supreme Court who ran as an independent in a bid to become the country’s first female president, received 18.5% of the vote, according to preliminary results.
Mr. Hofer and Mr. Van der Bellen will likely face each other in a runoff vote on May 22. Final results for the first round will be released on Monday.
No prizes for guessing what caused the meltdown: the immigration crisis that has shaken Austrian politics to the core. There are other reasons for European voters to be skeptical of traditional parties, to be sure, but in a non-Club-Med country like Austria, this one stands head and shoulders above the rest.
The real test of strength for the fringe Right won’t come until the Parliamentary elections in 2018. But this is not the first sign of trouble—the Freedom Party also nearly toppled 70 years of Social Democrat rule in Vienna during the last mayoral elections.
To the north, Angela Merkel maintains her grip on power, with the far-right still looking relatively small (if notably larger than a year ago) and no rivals in sight. But for Germany’s southern neighbors, things are not looking so firm; there must be panic in the halls of power today. We shall see how that shakes out in policy terms—in the interim, we would recommend reading this excellent profile of the Freedom Party by Charles Hawley.