Monday, May 23, 2016

The Viennese Gambit, Or Make Austria Great Again

With Sunday's votes in Austria's presidential election, far-right nationalist candidate Norbert Hofer has a slender lead against centrist Green Alexander Van der Bellen, and the final vote tally will be decided by absentee and mail-in ballots still being counted.

Austria is split. The soft-spoken, charismatic Mr Hofer, sometimes described as a wolf in sheep's clothing, caused turmoil in Austrian politics when he won a clear victory in the first round of voting in April.

But now his rival, Mr Van der Bellen from the Greens, has caught up. The far right has profited from deep frustration with the established parties of the centre left and the centre right in Austria. And in recent months, it has been boosted further by fears about the migrant crisis.

If Mr Hofer wins, it could have an impact far beyond Austria's borders - possibly giving momentum to far-right and Eurosceptic parties in other EU countries.

According to the interior ministry's final count of votes cast at polling-stations(in German), Mr Hofer took 51.9% to 48.1% for Mr Van der Bellen.

Postal voting accounts for 750,000 ballots, roughly 12% of Austria's 6.4 million eligible voters, said Interior Minister Wolfgang Sobotka.

"None of us wished for this," Mr Hofer said when he and Mr Van der Bellen were interviewed by ORF after the vote on Sunday.

"After all, both of us wanted to have a good night's sleep but it is so exciting. I've been in politics for a long time but I've never experienced an election night like this one."

Whoever won, he said, would have "the job of uniting Austria".

Mr Van der Bellen said that if he were elected president he would be welcome in all member states of the EU.

"I have been pro-European during the five months of campaigning," he said. "I made clear how important the European Union is for freedom, security and prosperity - also in Austria."

In the first round, Mr Hofer secured 35% of the votes, while Mr Van der Bellen polled 21%.

The two rivals had engaged in an angry TV debate earlier in the week, described as "political mud-wrestling" by commentators.

If this sounds familiar, there's a similar tune being played by Hofer's Freedom Party here in the States, and it sounds an awful lot like Donald Trump's campaign rhetoric.  We'll see where the voters stand after the mail ballots have been counted, but don't be surprised if the winner here wants to build a wall, kick those people out of the country, and want to Make Austria Great Again.

The same anger brought on by demographics in Europe is the same as the flames being stoked here, and the results may scorch a whole lot of Europe and the US before they are contained.

[UPDATE] : The BBC now saying that the postal votes are showing a Van de Bellen win.  Austria barely avoids a right-wing nationalist disaster.

For now.

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