Main­stream re­lief as leftist can­di­date wins in Aus­tria

The Washington Times Daily - - WORLD - BY GE­ORGE JAHN

VIENNA | Alexan­der Van der Bellen, a left-lean­ing politi­cian who preached mod­er­a­tion and tol­er­ance, won Aus­tria’s pres­i­den­tial elec­tion Sun­day over right-wing pop­ulist Nor­bert Hofer, ac­cord­ing to pre­lim­i­nary re­sults that showed Mr. Van der Bellen con­vinc­ingly ahead.

His ac­com­plish­ment was greeted with con­grat­u­la­tions by main­stream politi­cians in neigh­bor­ing Ger­many. They and oth­ers in Europe had feared that Don­ald Trump’s win in the United States and the Brexit vote in Bri­tain her­alded a resur­gence of pop­ulist sen­ti­ment across the con­ti­nent.

Vice Chan­cel­lor Sig­mar Gabriel, who heads Ger­many’s cen­ter-left So­cial Democrats, told the Bild news­pa­per: “A load has been taken off the mind of all of Europe.” He called the re­sult “a clear vic­tory for good sense against right-wing pop­ulism.”

Par­tial re­sults tal­lied shortly the polls closed Sun­day showed Mr. Van der Bellen with 53.3 per­cent of the vote and Mr. Hofer at 46.7 per­cent. While the mar­gin may change when fi­nal re­sults are in, Aus­trian of­fi­cials said the re­sults gave Mr. Van der Bellen an un­beat­able lead.

Not­ing the out­size at­ten­tion the elec­tion in Aus­tria was re­ceiv­ing, Mr. Van der Bellen de­clared that “what hap­pens here today has rel­e­vance for all of Europe,” as he cast his bal­lot.

Mr. Hofer con­ceded his loss in a Face­book post­ing. Ac­knowl­edg­ing that he was “end­lessly sad” about his loss, Mr. Hofer added, “I would have been happy to take care of our Aus­tria.” He urged vot­ers of both camps to bury their dif­fer­ences and work to­gether for Aus­tria.

The Aus­trian pres­i­dent’s func­tions are largely cer­e­mo­nial and past elec­tions have mer­ited lit­tle at­ten­tion out­side the coun­try be­cause they were de­cided be­tween main­stream can­di­dates. This time the con­test was watched across Europe be­cause it was seen as an in­di­ca­tor of how well eu­roskep­tic can­di­dates will do else­where in the EU next year.

Mr. Van der Bellen is pro-Euro­pean Union and rep­re­sents lib­eral to left-of-cen­ter views, while Mr. Hofer is from the eu­roskep­tic anti-mi­grant Free­dom Party. Mr. Hofer mod­er­ated his hard-line cam­paign mes­sage when try­ing to woo un­de­cided vot­ers dis­en­chanted with the po­lit­i­cal estab­lish­ment.

Sun­day’s elec­tion was a court-or­dered re­run from a vote in May that Mr. Van der Bellen won by less than 1 per­cent­age point.

The re­sults Sun­day will not please other pop­ulist politi­cians in the EU who want their coun­tries out of the bloc.

Far-right Na­tional Front leader Marine Le Pen of France and anti-im­mi­grant politi­cian Geert Wilders in the Nether­lands, who both face na­tional elec­tions next year, tweeted their sup­port Sun­day for Mr. Hofer as vot­ing was still go­ing on. Later, af­ter he lost, they, con­grat­u­lated him on his strong show­ing.

Tra­di­tional po­lit­i­cal fig­ures in neigh­bor­ing Ger­many put aside their dif­fer­ences to wel­come Mr. Van der Bellen’s vic­tory.

Man­fred We­ber, a con­ser­va­tive who heads the main cen­ter-right group in the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment, wrote on Twit­ter: “Aus­tri­ans send clear pro-Euro­pean sig­nal. The Euro­pean right-wing pop­ulists’ party is off for now.”

Top Ger­man op­po­si­tion Green leader Si­mone Peter called it “a good day for Aus­tria and Europe. The right-wing rab­ble-rousers have to be stopped!”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

The first of­fi­cial re­sults from the Aus­trian pres­i­den­tial elec­tion showed left-lean­ing can­di­date Alexan­der Van der Bellen with what ap­pears to be an un­beat­able lead over right-winger Nor­bert Hofer.

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