Austria’s Freedom party will get another go at providing the first far-right president in the European Union, after the country’s constitutional court annulled the result of May’s presidential election. The court president, Gerhart Holzinger, announced on Friday that the run-off vote, in which Norbert Hofer of the Freedom party (FPÖ) narrowly lost to Green-backed Alexander Van der Bellen, would have to be repeated across the whole country after an investigation revealed irregularities in the count of the vote in several constituencies. The unprecedented ruling comes a week before Van der Bellen was due to be sworn into office. Hofer had lost out to his rival in a knife-edge election on 22 May by only 30,863 votes. While the Austrian presidency is a largely ceremonial role, the outcome has been seen as hugely symbolic, with the Freedom party seemingly buoyed by growing anti-refugee sentiment and disaffection with the country’s political establishment.
Hofer’s comment in a TV debate that “you will be surprised by what can be done [by a president]” had given rise to fears that the soft-spoken 45-year-old could make use of powers to dissolve parliament once in office.
Having previously appealed for Britain to reform the European Union from within, Hofer last week called for Austria to have its own referendum on EU membership if the alliance of states was to take further steps towards “a centralised union”. “If the union develops incorrectly, then that is the moment for me where one needs to say: now we have to ask the Austrians as well,” Hofer said in an interview with Österreich.
The Freedom party contested the outcome of May’s vote after claiming to have detected formal irregularities in 94 out of 117 constituencies, submitting a 150-page formal complaint to the constitutional court.