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Europe's rightists celebrate Austrian vote outcome

April 25, 2016

Far-right parties across Europe have hailed the victory of Austria's anti-immigration Freedom Party in presidential elections. The results mean the country's next president won't be backed by the two main parties.

Image: picture alliance/H. Punz/APA

Congratulations rolled in from far-right leaders in Germany, France, Italy and the Netherlands on Monday following the triumph of Austria's Freedom Party (FPÖ) in Sunday's presidential poll.

Official preliminary results showed Norbert Hofer of the FPÖ (pictured above) with 36.4 percent of the vote, while Alexander Van der Bellen from the Greens came in second with 20.4 percent. The two will enter a run-off on May 22.

It was the Freedom Party's best ever result at a federal level. Candidates from the centrist parties, which have dominated Austrian politics since the end of World War II, failed to even make it through to the second round.

Geert Wilders and Marine Le Pen
Geert Wilders and Marine Le Pen are celebrating the FPÖ's triumphImage: picture-alliance/dpa

Praise for allies

The Alternative for Germany (AfD) party leader Frauke Petry welcomed the "terrific outcome," and in a tweet suggested Austria's vote could be "a foretaste of positive change in Europe."

Marine Le Pen of France's Front National called it a "magnificent result. Bravo to the Austrian people." She told broadcaster France 2 it showed people were starting to realize the European Union was failing to foster economic growth and curb immigration.

"There is clearly a growing awareness among people in Europe that the EU is an anti-democratic structure that subjugates people," Le Pen said.

Dutch far-right MP Geert Wilders said the FPÖ's performance was "fantastic." Matteo Salvini, the leader of Italy's far-right Northern League movement expressed his "great joy," saying the FPÖ was "calling for controlled migration, more jobs and a different Europe - like us they want rules, order, jobs and tranquility."

Refugees on Austria's border with Slovenia
The migrant crisis was a key part of the Freedom Party's election campaignImage: Reuters/L. Foeger

Dramatic shift

If Hofer is ultimately elected president, it would be the first time since 1945 that Austria won't have a head of state backed by either Chancellor Werner Faymann's center-left Social Democrats or his conservative coalition partners the People's Party. Reacting on Sunday night, Faymann said the vote tally sent a "clear warning to the government that we have to work together more strongly."

The FPÖ campaigned on an anti-Europe platform and sought to capitalize on unease over migration and the faltering economy - factors that have seen support for the main parties slide in recent years.

The role of president in Austria is largely - but not always - ceremonial. The president is head of state, swears in the chancellor, has the authority to dismiss the Cabinet and is the military's commander in chief.

Hofer warned late Sunday that, if elected to the post, he would consider dismissing the coalition government as a last resort in an attempt to turn around the struggling economy.

nm/jlw (AFP, dpa, Reuters)