Ethnic politics returns with a vengeance in Austria’s far-right success

THE re-emergence of the far right across the continent could have its most symbolic success yet should populist candidate Norbert Hofer secure victory in Austria’s tight presidential election. 

With most of the votes counted, Hofer, the 45-year-old leader of the nationalist Freedom Party was on 51.9 per cent in the final round of presidential elections, with opposing veteran Green candidate Alexander Van der Bellen on 48.1 per cent. 

The evenly divided country is anxiously awaiting the counting of postal ballots being tallied today, which account for roughly 14 per cent of those cast. 

Whatever the result, it marks a dramatic change in the political landscape of the country, which has seen more than 70 years of centrist-dominated government since the end of the Second World War. 

Even if Hofer loses the vote, his Freedom Party is performing well in the polls, and stands a good chance of securing real political power in 2018’s parliamentary elections. 

Winning the presidency would be more of a symbolic victory, as the role comes packed with little punch, but could galvanise the far right across Europe, where it has made a startling comeback amid economic pain and heightened immigration fears. 

The movement behind Hofer has stoked fears that the country could become divided by its strong nationalistic, ethnic-driven populism, which has ties to the concept of a greater Germany. 

Its success in improving from winning the confidence of a mere three per cent of the electorate ten years ago, to a solid half today, has been strongly welcomed by similar movements in France, Hungary, Sweden, and indeed Germany and the UK. 

The results will soon be in and, regardless of whether Hofer is elected as the EU’s first far-right president, mark a significant sea change for a continent with a violent history of lurching towards extremes. 

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