A second attempt this year to elect Austria’s president was postponed Monday when the country’s interior minister said envelopes of absentee ballots frequently couldn’t be sealed due to faulty adhesive strips. The delay must be formalized through a still-to-be-created law. But in asking the government to draft such legislation, Interior Minister Wolfgang Sobotka effectively canceled plans to hold the vote Oct. 2. The presidency originally was to have been filled in July, after left-leaning contender Alexander Van der Bellen edged out Norbert Hofer of the right-wing Freedom Party. But the country’s highest court ordered a rerun after the Freedom Party claimed major irregularities. The court decision was seen as a victory for the Freedom Party, giving it more time to exploit widespread anti-migrant sentiment in favor of its candidate. Recent polls have given Hofer a 4 to 6 percentage-point edge over Van der Bellen.
Monday’s unprecedented development means that Austria will remain without a head of state for at least two more months. Shortly after Sobotka’s announcement, the center-left government coalition agreed to hold the vote on Dec. 4, leaving time for legislation to be drawn up and passed by parliament, as well as for printing and distributing new absentee ballots and envelopes.
The repeat vote was ordered after the country’s highest court ruled broadly in favor of the Freedom Party’s claims, which included that absentee ballots from May voting were sorted before electoral commission officials arrived; that some officials stayed away during absentee vote counts but signed documents saying they were present; and that some ballot envelopes were opened without authorization.