Right wing nationalist set to win rerun Austrian presidential race

Presidential candidate Norbert Hofer (R) and head of the Austrian Freedom party Heinz-Christian Strache (L) . Vienna, April. [Reuters]

Freedom Party candidate Norbert Hofer has widened his lead in a Gallup poll ahead of October’s repeat election for the Austrian presidency.

Hofer lost by a whisker in May to former Green party leader Alexander van der Bellen in an election that Austria’s constitutional court this month ordered re-run due to vote count irregularities.

A series of Islamist attacks in Europe and Britain’s decision to leave the EU since the original vote have shuffled the political deck in neutral Austria.

The poll published by the Österreich paper on Sunday (31 July) showed the midpoint of the wide range of support for Hofer at 52% — one point higher than a poll in early July found — versus 48% for van der Bellen.

57% of the 600 respondents cited Hofer’s personality as the most important factor, followed by “protection from terror” at 56% and “more stringent asylum policy” at 55%, the paper said.

The poll also showed the anti-Islam and Eurosceptic Freedom Party (FPÖ) with record-high 35 % support, far ahead of the governing coalition partners: the centre-left Social Democrats at 25% and conservative People’s Party at 19%.

FPÖ leader Heinz Christian Strache has repeatedly accused the government of taking too soft a line on Europe’s migrant crisis, which the FPÖ says has exposed Austria to danger.

In an interview with Österreich, Strache demanded EU sanctions to punish Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan for what Strache called anti-democratic crackdowns on opponents after a failed coup.

“What we need are an immediate halt to (EU) membership negotiations and payments worth billions, as well as sanctions finally. If the EU’s hypocritical policy sees the introduction of the death penalty announced by Erdoğan as a red line, that is pure cynicism. The red line was crossed long ago,” he said.

Hofer, 45, lost out in May by just 31,000 votes to pro-Europe candidate van der Bellen, 72. But Austria’s highest court annulled the vote, finding that sloppiness in the count, while not intended to manipulate any votes, had potentially been serious enough to change the outcome.

If successful, he would be the first far-right head of state in a European Union country.

Austrian far right gets election defeat annulled

Austria's presidential run-off election must be held again, the country's Constitutional Court ruled on Friday (1 July), handing the Freedom Party's narrowly defeated candidate another chance to become the first far-right head of state in the European Union.

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