Mainstream relief as left-wing candidate defeats euroskeptic
Left-leaning Alexander Van der Bellen triumphed over his right-wing rival on Sunday in the vote for Austria’s presidency, a victory welcomed by moderate politicians across Europe as a blow against the populist forces looking to weaken the European Union.
While the Austrian presidency is a mostly symbolic post, it had attracted attention from across Europe as the next possible victory for populists after political outsider Donald Trump’s presidential win in the United States and the Brexit vote in the United Kingdom.
“What happens here today has relevance for all of Europe,” Van der Bellen said as he cast his ballot, later noting that his win showed most voters backed his message of “freedom, equality, solidarity”.
With all votes except for absentee ballots counted, Van der Bellen had 51.68 percent of the vote to 48.32 percent for Norbert Hofer. But pollsters predicted a final result of 53.3 percent to 46.7 percent in favor of Van der Bellen once the approximately 500,000 absentee ballots were tallied. The final result of Sunday’s vote was expected by Tuesday at the latest.
Van der Bellen said the win sends a “message to the EU capitals that one can win elections with high European positions.” He said he would work to unite a country deeply split between the moderate liberals who voted for him and supporters of Hofer’s anti-immigrant Freedom Party.
Powerful euroskeptic populist politicians facing elections next year in other EU nations shrugged off Hofer’s loss as a temporary setback, but the result was greeted with relief and congratulations by mainstream politicians.
French President Francois Hollande said Austrians “made the choice of Europe, and openness”.