Austria's president hopes for reelection without runoff

Austria’s liberal president is hoping to be reelected without the need for a runoff vote after a campaign in which he has cast himself as the stable option in uncertain times

Via AP news wire
Sunday 09 October 2022 07:16 BST

Austria's liberal president is hoping to be reelected on Sunday without the need for a runoff vote after a campaign in which he has cast himself as the stable option in uncertain times.

President Alexander Van der Bellen, 78, is seeking a second term after a first six years in which a succession of domestic political crises has given the head of state unusually high visibility in a role that is often largely ceremonial.

Nearly 6.4 million people in the Alpine country are eligible to vote in Sunday's election.

Polls have shown a big lead for Van der Bellen, who has the implicit or explicit backing of Austria's mainstream parties. The main question is whether he will win outright in the first round or whether a runoff will be necessary against the second-placed candidate on Nov. 6.

Of the parties in parliament, only the far-right Freedom Party has fielded a candidate against him — Walter Rosenkranz, a lawyer who is the former leader of its parliamentary group.

In 2016, Van der Bellen beat a more prominent Freedom Party candidate, Norbert Hofer, by 53.8% to 46.2% in a runoff that was rerun on the orders of Austria's Constitutional Court.

Hofer's party had claimed widespread voting irregularities in the initial runoff months earlier that Van der Bellen won by a whisker. The vote was closely watched in a year that produced the Brexit vote in the U.K. and Donald Trump’s election in the United States.

There's no sign of any such drama this time. Opinion polling in recent weeks has consistently put Van der Bellen above the 50% mark he needs to avoid a runoff.

“If things go well, I’m going to get more votes than all six of my competitors combined,” he said this week. “If I don’t get my wish, well, then I’ll just win four weeks later. … I don’t want that. I want to win this Sunday.”

Other candidates include the left-leaning, satirical Beer Party’s Dominik Wlazny, known as Marco Pogo, as well as a handful of right-wing and conspiracy-minded candidates, such as Michael Brunner of the anti-coronavirus restriction party People Freedom Fundamental Rights and Gerald Grosz, a former leader of the now-defunct far-right party Alliance for the Future of Austria.

The Freedom Party has capitalized on inflation and rising energy prices to make modest poll gains in recent months. But it’s been unable to pose the strong challenge that Hofer did.

Recent campaign posters for Van der Bellen, who hails from the environmentalist Green party but is running as an independent, featured the slogan “The Safe Choice in Stormy Times.”

Austria has faced political disruptions in recent years, going through five chancellors during Van der Bellen's first term.

After conservative Chancellor Sebastian Kurz’s governing coalition with the Freedom Party collapsed in scandal in 2019, the president appointed an interim Cabinet of non-partisan experts under Brigitte Bierlein, then the head of the Constitutional Court.

Austria’s top politicians trooped in and out of Van der Bellen’s Hofburg palace again last year after Kurz, who had returned in a new government with the Greens, resigned. The country had three chancellors in two months, with Kurz’s successor, Alexander Schallenberg, giving way within weeks to current Chancellor Karl Nehammer.

Early election projections should be available shortly after the polls close at 5 p.m. (1500 GMT) Sunday, with a preliminary result expected Sunday evening. Postal ballots will be counted on Monday.


Follow AP's

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in