Far-right Austrian party challenges presidential election result

Freedom Party candidate Norbert Hofer lost election to Green Party rival by 30,863 votes

Right-wing Austrian  presidential candidate Norbert Hofer, whose Freedom Party has challenged the presidential election results won by the opposition Alexander Van der Bellen of the Green Party. Photograph: Christian Bruna/EPA

Right-wing Austrian presidential candidate Norbert Hofer, whose Freedom Party has challenged the presidential election results won by the opposition Alexander Van der Bellen of the Green Party. Photograph: Christian Bruna/EPA

 

Austria’s far-right populist Freedom Party (FPö) has demanded a rerun of last month’s presidential election run-off which saw its candidate lose by almost 31,000 votes.

On Wednesday the FPö filed a 150-page constitutional court challenge, saying the May 22nd result was marred by “terrifying” irregularities that prevented its candidate, Norbert Hofer, becoming Austria’s first far-right president.

“We are not sore losers but this is about protecting the very foundations of democracy,” said Heinz-Christian Strache, FPö leader, at a press conference announcing the challenge. “The extent of irregularities is more than terrifying. That’s why I feel obliged to challenge the result,” he told a news conference.

FPö leader said he “didn’t want to insinuate” that the result was deliberately manipulated, but wanted clarity over claims received by the FPö that electoral law was breached.

The presidential election run-off was won by Alexander Van der Bellen, an independent candidate with backing of the opposition Green Party. He took 50.3 per cent of the poll to Mr Hofer’s 49.7 per cent, with a turnout of 72.7 per cent. Mr Van der Bellen secured his final lead of 30,863 votes only when postal votes were included. The FPö argues that this result is problematic given irregularities it claims surround some of the 573,000 postal votes, and the fact that some votes were counted early.

Without these irregularities, Mr Strache claimed on Wednesday, Mr Hofer could be president.

Mr Hofer, who presented himself to voters as the more moderate side of the populist FPö, topped the first round of voting and had a good chance of becoming Europe’s first far-right head of state. The defeated candidate said on Wednesday the run-off had seen “outrageous breaches of law” that resulted in up to half a million votes not being registered correctly.

The FPö challenge includes claims that 82 of Austria’s 117 electoral districts had already sorted postal votes before vote counters had arrived. Other districts used incorrectly coloured envelopes, it claims, meaning that not all votes posted were returned. In other cases, the party claims that non-Austrian nationals and youths under 16 voted in the election.

Announcing his party’s challenge, filed just hours before a deadline expired, Mr Strache said he felt it was “very realistic” that the poll would be repeated, a view not shared by Austrian constitutional experts.

The constitutional court will first examine whether the alleged mistakes in the poll would be enough to reverse the election outcome. It could order parts of the election or the election count to be repeated. A full repeat of the second round is considered unlikely.

The election team of Alexander Van der Bellen said they were taking an “equanimous” view of the challenge to the result while the opposition Green Party suggested the FPö was expecting to lose its challenge, allowing it present itself and its candidate as victims of a wider conspiracy by the Austrian establishment.