Austria’s constitutional court annulled May’s president election on Friday, upholding a legal challenge by the anti-immigation Freedom party (FPÖ) and opening the way for a repeat poll in September or October. “The challenge brought by Freedom Party leader Heinz-Christian Strache against the May 22 election… has been upheld,” said constitutional court head Gerhard Holzinger. The court said it was using its strict standard on the application of election rules. Final results on May’s election – after a count of absentee ballots – had put former Green party politician Alexander Van der Bellen ahead by little more than 30,000 votes. The margin of presumed victory was less than one percentage point – out of the 4.6 million ballots cast. Norbert Hofer of the FPÖ had come top in a first round in April.
The decision “serves only to strengthen trust in our laws and our democracy,” said Holzinger.
Preliminary results on the evening of the second round had given Hofer a narrow lead but after some 700,000 postal votes were counted, Van der Bellen was declared the winner of the largely ceremonial post the next day. The final count showed Van der Bellen with 50.3 percent, compared with 49.7 percent for Hofer.
The tight contest was viewed Europe-wide as a proxy fight pitting the continent’s political center against its growingly strong populist and anti-establishment movements.