Austria’s governing coalition was thrown into turmoil after its candidates were humiliated in the first round of presidential elections by the Freedom Party, a nationalist force that took the most votes following a campaign that played on discontent with the handling of the refugee crisis. The Freedom Party’s Norbert Hofer, 45, who placed first with 35 percent of the first-round ballots on Sunday, said he may fire the current government or veto some of its decisions if elected, raising the stakes for the May 22 runoff. Hofer will run against Alexander van der Bellen, 72, a candidate backed by the opposition Green party, who took 21 percent, according to official results.
“This government won’t have an easier time with me, but Austria will have it better,” Hofer said in an interview with Austrian public broadcaster ORF Sunday night. “There’s always the option to dismiss the government if, after talks and efforts, it’s not getting better.”
While the Austrian president has a largely ceremonial role, he or she can dismiss the government and call fresh elections. Hofer has said he would also refuse to sign off on selected laws, such as a planned free-trade agreement between the European Union and the U.S., and that he may accompany Chancellor Werner Faymann to EU summits if elected.
“This result could be the start of a dynamic in which the coalition breaks down by itself or give the president a reason to act,” said Anton Pelinka, a professor of political science at Central European University in Budapest.