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Austria

Austria's presidential campaign draws to a close

As Austrians prepare to head to the polls, the candidates have sent out their final campaign messages. Norbert Hofer of the right-wing Freedom Party has urged voters to ensure a "safe Austria" for future generations.

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Austria decides: The populist challenge

After a seemingly never-ending campaign, Austria's presidential race came to an end on Saturday, leaving the decision in the hands of the voters.

A victory on Sunday for Norbert Hofer (pictured above, right) from the anti-immigration and EU-critical Freedom Party (FPÖ) would make him Europe's first far-right elected president since World War II.

The Austrian presidency is largely ceremonial. However, in the event of Hofer's victory, hitherto unused presidential powers could - in theory - allow him to fire center-left Chancellor Christian Kern's government.

In light of June's Brexit vote in the UK, as well as Donald Trump's victory in the US election last month, success for Hofer would also mark another triumph for populist politics. For his opponent, the independent Alexander Van der Bellen (pictured above, left), the only hope of beating Hofer is to win the capital, Vienna.

Polls suggest that gun enthusiast Hofer and former Greens leader Van der Bellen are neck and neck.

Dirty tactics

In their final bids to clinch the presidency on Saturday, both candidates released Facebook videos, urging Austrians to turn out and vote on Sunday.

Van der Bellen said people should be guided by "reason, not extremes," while Hofer called on voters to ensure a "safe Austria" for their "children and grandchildren."

The 11-month campaign has been a drawn-out affair which has repeatedly shed light on the ugly side of politics. 

Austrian daily "Die Presse" dubbed the final debate - in which both candidates repeatedly called each other "a liar" - a "key scene in the screenplay of the slow decline of Austria's political culture."

During the campaign, Hofer called his challenger a "communist" and a "fascist green dictator," while Van der Bellen labeled Hofer a "demagogue."

Out in the streets, Hofer's posters were defaced with Hitler moustaches and Van der Bellen's were smeared with dog excrement.

In May, Van der Bellen won a runoff by just 31,000 votes but the FPÖ had the result annulled due to irregularities. This time around, however, there are 20 percent fewer postal votes, which might prove beneficial to Hofer.

ksb/cmk (AFP, dpa)

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