Last Sunday, the post-war consensus in Austrian politics was swept away. Nobert Hofer, from the far right Austrian Freedom Party (FPÖ), came top with 35% in the first round of the presidential elections and faces a run off Alexander van der Bellen, a former leader of and supported by the Greens, who received 21% and came first in most cities including Vienna. Turnout was a respectable 69%. The campaign for the second round ballot on May 22 is likely to be bruising and divisive. Forecasts suggest that Hofer will win.
This was no earthquake as the FPÖ had performed well in local elections last October. This time Hofer’s result was significantly better than the polls had predicted. The Greens were also pleased with van der Bellen’s result. NEOS, our young sister party, had backed Irmgard Griss who came third with 19%. They are now supporting van der Bellen ‘for the Republic’.
The candidates supported by the two main parties came fourth and fifth with around 11% each. The Social Democrats (SPÖ) and the Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) have provided all previous presidents since the Second World War and are currently governing together in a grand coalition. The coalition is now responding by tightening asylum laws and building more border fences.