Austria Rejects Anti-Immigrant Populist in Presidential Election

TEHRAN (Tasnim) – Austrians voted against an anti-immigrant populist as their next president by a resounding margin, bucking a trend of nationalist electoral successes across the West.

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Center-left candidate Alexander Van der Bellen beat back a challenge from his right-wing opponent Norbert Hofer, winning 53.3% of the vote in the country’s runoff election, according to a final count of votes cast late on Sunday and a projection of mail-in ballot results. Hofer congratulated Van der Bellen on his victory in a Facebook post and called on all Austrians to “stick together and work together.”

The 72-year-old Mr. Van der Bellen’s election to the largely ceremonial post notched a rare victory for supporters of European integration and liberal internationalism in a year in which nationalism and populism has swept across Europe and the US.

“I fought for a pro-European Austria from the start,” he said Sunday evening on Austrian television. He promised to uphold the values of “freedom, equality, and solidarity with all those who at the moment aren’t well off in our economic system.”

The Freedom Party’s Mr. Hofer would have become the first right-wing populist president in postwar Western Europe if he had prevailed. Like other populist politicians across the continent, Mr. Hofer wanted to roll back the power of the European Union, toughen border controls, crack down on the flow of migrants to Europe and improve relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin, the Wall Street Journal reported. 

“Let us together allow reason rather than extremism to lead our decisions,” Mr. Van der Bellen said in his closing video appeal to voters. “Let me be your president of the middle.”

Mr. Van der Bellen’s victory capped a nearly yearlong Austrian presidential campaign that brought to light widespread discontent with the country’s political establishment. Either candidate would have been the first president in Austrian postwar history not supported by either of the two mainstream parties in the first round.

Mr. Van der Bellen is the former head of Austria’s Green Party and ran as an independent. In the campaign, he defended the EU and exhorted Austrians to accept refugees who have fled to Europe from war zones in Syria and elsewhere.

Sunday’s vote was the third attempt at a second-round election in Austria: Mr. Van der Bellen’s tight victory in May was first annulled by a court because of rule violations in counting mail-in ballots. Then, a revote scheduled for October was delayed because of faulty glue on the ballot envelopes.

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