The Austrian Freedom Party’s (FPÖ) candidate in the presidential election, Norbert Hofer, has conceded defeat to his independent rival, Alexander van der Bellen.
Media around the continent began reporting that Hofer had finally been defeated by Van der Bellen after postal votes were taken into account, but it is now certain that the right-wing candidate will not become Austria’s head of state.
“Of course I am sad today. I would have liked to take care of our wonderful country for you as president,” Hofer said on his Facebook page, adding that the election is “an investment for the future”.
The contest between Hofer and independent candidate Alexander van der Bellen in Sunday’s (22 May) election was too close to call and depended on postal ballots being counted today (23 May).
Van der Bellen’s narrow victory denied Hofer the chance to become the continent’s first far-right head of state, as he ultimately only got 49.7% of the total vote.
Despite Van der Bellen campaigning as an independent, he was backed by the country’s green party and his win received support from around Europe; French PM Manuel Valls tweeted his “relief” that Austria had “rejected populism and extremism”.
Soulagement de voir les Autrichiens rejeter le populisme et l'extrémisme. Chacun doit en tirer les leçons en Europe.
— Manuel Valls (@manuelvalls) May 23, 2016
The new president led the Greens for a decade until 2008.
Although the office of Austrian president is largely symbolic, the election was seen as something of an acid test for the country’s politics and took on additional meaning in the wake of Werner Faymann’s (SPÖ) resignation as chancellor, instigated by his party’s candidate’s failure to get past the first round of presidential elections.