Austrian president re-elected, far-right candidate gets 16%

Austria re-elected Social Democrat Heinz Fischer to the largely ceremonial post of president on 25 April, underscoring the far right's failure to win over conservative voters.

Fischer won some 79% of the popular vote, keeping far ahead of his nearest challenger, Barbara Rosenkranz of the far-right Freedom Party, who garnered about 16%.

Only about half of voters cast ballots, as opposed to 70% six years ago when Fischer, now 71, was first elected.

Rosenkranz failed to tap the full potential of the Freedom Party's popularity, which pollsters put at around 20%, despite the party's hopes of a 35% vote.

Rosenkranz, 51, who describes herself as a housewife and mother of 10, has questioned a law against propagating Nazism.

Feeding off anti-foreigner and anti-EU sentiment, the hard right took almost a third of the vote in the 2008 parliamentary election, but was kept in opposition when the main centre-left and centre-right parties revived a coalition.

Rosenkranz sought to broaden her message into mainstream territory after what analysts called an ill-considered campaign launch last month that underlined her ultra-rightist provincial background.

In a national radio interview, she reiterated a view that Austria's 1947 law banning denial of the Nazi Holocaust was unconstitutional since it interfered with freedom of speech.

Asked whether she doubted the existence of Nazi death camps where millions of Jews were executed, she said only: "I have a knowledge of history taught in Austrian schools in 1964-76."

Critics say Austria did not publicly acknowledge its historical role in Nazi crimes before the late 1980s, when then-President Kurt Waldheim admitted to hiding wartime service in Adolf Hitler's officer corps.

(EURACTIV with Reuters.)

Commission President José Nauel Barroso issued the following statement on the occasion of the re-election of Austian President Hienz Fischer:

"I would like to congratulate you warm-heartedly on your re-election and wish you every success for your new term in office. I am sure that not least thanks to your work the relations between the Republic of Austria and the European Commission will continue to be close and trustworthy. I would be pleased to find a new occasion for a personal talk soon."

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