Austria election: Far-right candidate Norbert Hofer concedes defeat

Freedom Party candidate calls on Austrians 'to stick together and work together'

Samuel Osborne
Sunday 04 December 2016 17:26 GMT
Norbert Hofer
Norbert Hofer

Austria's Norbert Hofer has conceded defeat after his hopes of becoming the European Union's first far-right president were dashed.

The first official results showed left-leaning candidate Alexander Van der Bellen with what appeared to be an unbeatable lead over his rival.

When the results were released shortly after polls closed on Sunday, Mr Van der Bellen had 53.5 per cent, while Mr Hofer had 46.4 per cent.

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Austria's Freedom Party conceded defeat within minutes of the poll projections being released.

"I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate Mr Van der Bellen," the party's chief strategist told Austrian media.

"The bottom line is it didn't quite work out," he said. "In this case the establishment — which pitched in once again to block, to stonewall and to prevent renewal — has won."

Mr Hofer congratulated his opponent on Facebook and called on "all Austrians to stick together and work together".

He was "incredibly sad," he added.

Alexander Van der Bellen reacts during an election party after the second round of the Austrian President elections on 22 May, 2016, in Vienna

While votes continue to be counted, officials say they will not change the outcome but the percentages may still vary.

The margin came as a surprise — polls ahead of Sunday's vote had shown the two candidates neck-and-neck.

The election is a court-ordered re-run of a May vote that Mr Van der Bellen won by less than one per cent.

Right-wing Austrian Freedom Party presidential candidate Norbert Hofer at a rally in May

An anti-immigration and Eurosceptic candidate, Mr Hofer was hoping to become the first far-right European head of state since Adolf Hitler in the election.

Hofer, a 45-year-old former aeronautical engineer, moved the emphasis from the Austrian Freedom Party's (FPOe) often xenophobic agenda to one highlighting social inequality.

The gun-enthusiast has ran with the slogan "unspoilt, honest, good", and won the first round of the presidential election in April with 35 per cent of the vote - knocking out the top government-backed candidates.

Relegating the issue of immigration, Mr Hofer's campaign then focused on economic reforms and a call for a more Swiss-style direct democracy.

In May, he lost the presidential election by just 31,000 votes to Mr Van der Bellen - but after FPOe cried foul, voting irregularites were uncovered and a re-run was organised.

Despite softening his message, Hofer called for Austria's borders to be "protected" and warned against the "dangers of the wrong immigration policy".

Speaking to a young Austrian Muslim on a talk show in May, he said Islam "has no place in Austria" as it poses a threat to the country's Judeo-Christian and humanist values.

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