Main­stream re­lief as left-wing can­di­date de­feats eu­roskep­tic

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - WORLD - By AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS in Vienna

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”.

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