Postal ballots will decide Austria’s presidential election after polling station results from Sunday’s vote gave the far-right candidate a slender lead.
Norbert Hofer of the Freedom Party was slightly ahead of his rival, Alexander Van der Bellen, the interior ministry said on Sunday. If elected, Mr Hofer would be the first far-right head of state in the EU. A key campaign issue was Europe’s migrant crisis, which has seen asylum-seeker numbers soar. About 90,000 people claimed asylum in Austria last year, equivalent to about 1% of the Austrian population, and the Freedom Party ran an anti-immigration campaign. Some 750,000 postal votes from roughly 12% of Austria’s 6.4m voters are due to be counted on Monday.
Austria’s election has revealed a profound split over which direction the nation should take. Support for the Freedom Party has risen in recent years because deep frustration with the established parties of the centre left and centre right. Fears about the migrant crisis have boosted the far right still further.
The presidency is a mainly ceremonial post, but a victory for the Freedom Party candidate Norbert Hofer would give momentum to populist and far-right parties in other European countries.