Re­lief and anger af­ter bit­ter Aus­tria elec­tion

Kuwait Times - - ANALYSIS -

Af­ter an ugly and deeply po­lar­iz­ing pres­i­den­tial cam­paign in nor­mally tran­quil Aus­tria, whoop­ing and re­lief on one side Sun­day night was matched by dis­dain and anger on the other. In­de­pen­dent can­di­date Alexan­der Van der Bellen had al­ready won the con­test once, back in May - the elec­tion had to be held again be­cause of pro­ce­dural prob­lems - so in the­ory the 72year-old could do it again.

But a lot has hap­pened since May to boost the con­fi­dence of pop­ulists like his far-right ri­val Nor­bert Hofer, not least Bri­tain’s shock de­ci­sion in June to leave the EU and Don­ald Trump’s US elec­tion vic­tory last month. “To­day I was to­tally sur­prised be­cause af­ter Trump and Brexit I was re­ally not sure what this meant for Aus­tria,” diplomat Wolf­gang Pi­etrisch, 69, said at Van der Bellen’s elec­tion party. “I was hugely sur­prised and my con­fi­dence, which was rather low in the past cou­ple of days, went up - sky­rock­eted,” Pi­etrisch told AFP.

At the same event, artist Natalia Nadasma, 21, said that Brexit and Trump had mo­ti­vated many ac­tivists to make sure that the Aus­trian elec­tion wasn’t yet an­other po­lit­i­cal shock. “A lot of peo­ple from civil so­ci­ety de­cided to be ac­tive, to go onto the streets in or­der to con­vince peo­ple to vote for lib­er­al­ism, to vote for open­ness, to vote for di­ver­sity,” Nadasma said. Stu­dent David Sheata, 20, said he had been wor­ried that af­ter be­ing asked to vote no fewer than three times this year - and for what is a largely cer­e­mo­nial job - voter fa­tigue would set in. But not a bit of it. The re­sult was “a big sur­prise be­cause we all thought that Hofer will win be­cause Aus­tri­ans lost their trust in the elec­tion process. But now, af­ter the first re­sult, we are very happy.”

In fact, ac­cord­ing to Van der Bellen, turnout was around 75-76 per­cent - higher than in May. Po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst Peter Ha­jek said that Van der Bellen’s sup­port­ers did a good job in the past few weeks get­ting peo­ple out to vote. Cam­paign­ers used Brexit and Trump to say to peo­ple “if you don’t want to end up also won­der­ing what hap­pened, then go out and vote, and vote Van der Bellen,” Ha­jek said.

San­dra Edel­mann, 30, a cor­po­rate con­sul­tant wav­ing a rain­bow flag and wear­ing a “Fan der Bellen” T-shirt, said she had never given up hope. “I be­lieved and hoped that Aus­tria would be clever enough to vote Van der Bellen, and they were,” she told AFP. “In the last 11 months I have been very ac­tive in the cam­paign. Last night I was in the pubs til 2:00 am, talk­ing to peo­ple, mo­ti­vat­ing them,” said so­cial worker Christoph Krottmayer, 35. “I am very re­lieved. It was all worth it. Later I think I might cry out of re­lief.” — AFP

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