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29/07/2016

Austrian presidential race heats up as election date draws near

Elections

Austrian presidential race heats up as election date draws near

How the candidates approach the issue of Heinz-Christian Strache and his nationalist Freedom Party will likely decide the outcome of the election.

[Metropolico.org/Flickr]

Austria’s relationship with the EU has played little role in the build up to the country’s presidential elections. The only staunchly anti-EU candidate’s election challenge has failed to materialise as a result. EurActiv Germany reports.

Robert Marschall set himself and his EU Exit Party an ambitious target when he declared his intention to contest the 24 April presidential election. To be considered for the ballot paper, he required 6,000 declarations of support.

He ran a very simple campaign, highlighting,  “serious mistakes in Austria, including, immigration, unemployment, wage cuts, public debt, sovereignty and loss of democracy, which have to be stopped.”

Therefore, he called for Austria to withdraw from the EU immediately and for the current government to be dismissed.

However, only 1,150 citizens backed his candidacy. Despite not garnering enough votes, Marschall appears not to have been dissuaded and has already said he will contest the election if he is not included on the ballot paper.

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However, Austrian construction magnate Richard Lugner might still manage to secure his place among the candidates, if the polls are to be believed. Lugner, known in Austria for his celebrity lifestyle and marriage to an ex-Playboy model who is 57 years his junior, still has a chance of securing the 6,000 votes he needs to be officially recognised.

At 83 years-old, he is the oldest candidate vying for the job and his personality has drawn comparisons with US presidential candidate Donald Trump. Opinion polls currently attribute 3% of the vote to Lugner.

The race is expected to be contested between Alexander van der Bellen (Austrian Green Party), former Social Affairs Minister Rudolf Hundstorfer (SPÖ), former first president of the National Council Andreas Khol (ÖVP), third president of the National Council Norbert Hofer (FPÖ), Lugner and retired Supreme Court of Justice judge Irmgard Griss (both independent).

It seems increasingly unlikely that any of the candidates will secure an absolute majority during the first round of voting. The two candidates from the ruling parties, the SPÖ and ÖVP, face particular difficulties, as current polls suggest they could struggle to make the second round of voting, let alone the runoff.

Neither can currently count on more than 65% of the vote from their own parties, as many SPÖ voters are sympathetic to the Greens’ candidate and many ÖVP voters are leaning towards the independent Griss.

The next four weeks will be crucial to the candidates’ aspirations and how they approach matters that are currently in the public eye will prove to be decisive. Recently, this has been less and less a question of actual policy and more people have wanted to know where the candidates stand on Austrian Freedom Party (FPÖ) leader Heinz-Christian Strache and whether he would be given the opportunity to form a government.

Van der Bellen is the only candidate that has expressed concerns at the thought of an FPÖ Chancellor.

Their presidential candidate, Norbert Hofer, has been quick to say that he would consider dismissing the current government. In a recent TV interview, he explained that Werner Faymann and his coalition partners should have already been relieved of their positions, because of their handling of the refugee crisis.

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The office of the Austrian presidency is largely ceremonial in nature, although the holder does theoretically retain the power to dismiss members of the government and the National Council, the lower house of the parliament.