The failed far-right contender in Austria’s presidential election has urged his supporters to accept the result despite some in his party alleging fraud. “We should all pull together,” Norbert Hofer said at a Freedom party (FPÖ) meeting in Vienna on Tuesday. “There are no signs of electoral fraud.” In the immediate aftermath of the vote, FPÖ leaders and activists had cried foul over the narrow result, with the Green-endorsed independent candidate Alexander Van der Bellen winning by only about 31,000 votes. Even before it emerged that Hofer had lost out on the presidency due to Van der Bellen’s strong performance in the postal vote, the party’s secretary, Herbert Kickl, had said that absentee votes had in the past shown up “inconsistencies”. “Accomplices of the current political system could potentially use the opportunity to adjust the result in favour of the system’s representative, Alexander Van der Bellen,” Kickl said.
A leftwing, independent candidate has narrowly prevented Austria from becoming the first EU country to elect a far-right head of state after a knife-edge contest ended with his opponent conceding defeat. Alexander Van der Bellen, a retired economics professor backed by the Green party, defeated Norbert Hofer, of the anti-immigrant, Eurosceptic Freedom party, a day after polling closed and only when more than 700,000 postal ballots – about 10% of available votes – were taken into account. The Austrian presidency is a largely ceremonial role but the outcome became hugely symbolic. Mirroring the rise of populist parties across Europe, the Freedom party exploited anti-EU and anti-immigrant sentiment in the wake of the continent’s refugee crisis and, despite Hofer’s narrow defeat, the election has left a deep split over the direction Austria should now take.