A just-completed poll by the Oesterreich newspaper among likely voters nationwide showed that if parliamentary elections were called, Hofer’s Freedom Party would emerge triumphant with 35 percent of the vote, followed by the two parties that now govern Austria in a “grand coalition:” the Social Democrats at 26 percent and the People’s (conservative) Party at 19 percent.
By John Gizzi l October 5, 2016
Norbert Hofer, a member of Austria’s nationalist Freedom Party
“How many Austrians does it take to elect a President?” is just one of the one-liners heard since the summer about a country and its electorate that historically pride themselves on doing things the right way.
Now, with Europe and a growing part of the rest of the world watching, Austrians appear poised to give their largely ceremonial presidency to an immigration hard-liner often likened to Donald Trump after an election that can only be called, well, troubled.
In results that were watched worldwide, Austrian voters on May 4 barely elected as president, educator Green Party member-turned-independent, Alexander Van der Bellen. “Foul,” cried supporters of runner-up Norbert Hofer, a member of the nationalist Freedom Party, who charged that irregularities at the polls cost their candidate victory in the “squeaker” race.
Austria’s Supreme Court agreed with the man dubbed the “Austrian Donald Trump” for his hard-line stand against immigrants flooding into his country. The election was nullified and rescheduled for October.
But last month, faced with the prospect of too many flawed envelopes with which to mail in absentee ballots, federal election officials again postponed the election. December 4th is the date voters are scheduled to go to the polls—for now, anyway.
“Neither candidate is pleased with the postponement to December 4,” observed Elisabeth Sabaditsch Wolf, a well-known Austrian critic of Islam and mass immigration, “However, given the challenges of the envelopes, there really is no choice at all.”
Signs are now strong that the momentum is with Hofer, whose tough talk on immigration is sculpted for television and who actually takes centrist positions on other issues. Although critical of the European Union and its regulations that override laws passed by the Austrian parliament, the Freedom Party nominee does not support an “Austrexit” along the lines of the UK’s break from the EU known as “Brexit.”
Moreover, Hofer recently called for tearing down Hitler’s birthplace home in Braunu am Inn to prevent it from becoming a Nazi pilgrimage. He has also called for a German translation of the Koran so that Austrians can understand what drives the Muslim faith.
Even on the issue of immigration, Hofer stops short of calling for all-out deportation of the Middle Eastern refugees, who flooded into Austria last year at a rate of 10,000 per day. However, as he told EuroNews, future refugees should demonstrate they “work first before taking advantages of the social welfare benefits.”
A just-completed poll by the Oesterreich newspaper among likely voters nationwide showed Hofer leading Van der Bellen by a slim margin of 51 to 49 percent – in short, a reversal of the numbers in their original May showdown.
The same poll showed that if parliamentary elections were called, Hofer’s Freedom Party would emerge triumphant with 35 percent of the vote, followed by the two parties that now govern Austria in a “grand coalition:” the Social Democrats at 26 percent and the People’s (conservative) Party at 19 percent.