Poor turnout gives Fischer hollow re-election victory

Mon, Apr 26, 2010, 01:00

EXTREME-RIGHT leaders in Austria have called for the abolition of the presidency after just half of eligible voters turned out to re-elect incumbent Heinz Fischer to a second term yesterday.

Exit polls gave Mr Fischer 79 per cent support, trouncing challenger Barbara Rosenkranz of the extreme-right Freedom Party (FPÖ) with less than 16 per cent.

But it was a hollow victory for the Social Democratic head of state: just 52 per cent of Austrian voters bothered to turn out yesterday – a historic low, down from 72 per cent in 2004.

Analysts blamed the low turnout on good weather but also an empty election campaign marred by the failure of the conservative People’s Party (ÖVP) to field a candidate. The only other candidate in an uneven three-horse race was the head of the fringe Christian Party, Rudolf Gehring, who polled 6 per cent.

With the result a foregone conclusion, the Austrian media spent the campaign poring over Ms Rosenkranz’s views on the Nazi era. She attracted controversy after calling for a reappraisal of post-war laws that forbid Holocaust denial and Nazi glorification.

Political leaders put the best spin they could on yesterday’s result, viewed as an important test of the public mood before autumn elections in Vienna.

The result is a bitter disappointment for Freedom Party leader Heinz-Christian Strache, who forecast a result of 35 per cent for his candidate.

“When you consider the dimensions of the media witch-hunt against Ms Rosenkranz in the last weeks, this is a good result for her,” said Mr Strache, aware he faces an uphill battle to realise his dream of becoming mayor of Vienna in the autumn poll.

Ms Rosenkranz said she was “not happy but satisfied”, calling the low turnout a “democratic shock”.

Allies of the late Jörg Haider in the BZÖ party could barely contain their Schadenfreude at yesterday’s result.

“Heinz Fischer has become the first minority president of the second republic,” said Josef Bucher, leader of the opposition BZÖ, calling for the roles of Austrian president and chancellor to be merged.