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Austria to re-run overturned presidential poll in October

Presidential rivals Norbert Hofer (left) and Alexander Van der Bellen during a TV debate in Vienna, Austria, on 24 April 2016 Image copyright Reuters

Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern says a re-run of the presidential election will take place on 2 October.

The date has to be confirmed by parliament, but that is a formality.

The 22 May vote was annulled last week, after a legal challenge from the far-right Freedom Party. It argued postal votes had been illegally and improperly handled.

Its candidate Norbert Hofer lost the election to the former Greens leader Alexander Van der Bellen by a sliver.

Mr Hofer garnered just 30,863 votes fewer than his rival – coming in at less than one percentage point behind.

the Freedom Party lodged a successful legal challenge to the results with the Constitutional Court – Austria’s highest court.

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In two weeks of hearings, it argued that postal ballots were illegally handled in 94 out of 117 districts, thousands of votes were opened earlier than permitted under election rules, and some were counted by people unauthorised to do so.

The party also claimed to have evidence that some under-16s and foreigners had been allowed to vote.

‘Sloppiness’

In its ruling, the court said election rules had been broken in a way that could have influenced the result.

But it said there was no proof the count had been manipulated.

Interior Minister Wolfgang Sobotka said afterwards he was “ashamed” by the scale of the “sloppiness” uncovered – which inspired tabloids to dub Austria a “banana republic”.

Mr Hofer’s party has based its election campaigns around concern over immigration and falling living standards for the less well-off.

If elected, Mr Hofer would become the first far-right head of state of an EU country.

His opponent, Mr Van der Bellen, is strongly pro-EU and has spoken of his dream for a border-free “United States of Europe”.


What powers does the Austrian president have?

It is a mostly ceremonial post. But the president does have the power to dissolve the National Council – the more powerful lower house of parliament. That triggers a general election.

The president can only do that once for a particular reason – he cannot use the same grounds to dissolve it again.

It is the chancellor’s job to appoint government ministers. And the chancellor has the power to dismiss the government. But ministers have to be formally sworn in by the president.


Vying to lead Austria

Norbert Hofer

Image copyright EPA

  • Age: 45
  • Background: Aeronautical engineer
  • Politics: Far-right Freedom Party
  • Campaign soundbite: “To those in Austria who go to war for the Islamic State or rape women – I say to those people: ‘This is not your home.'”

Alexander Van der Bellen

Image copyright AFP

  • Age: 72
  • Background: Economics professor
  • Politics: Former Green Party leader
  • Campaign soundbite: “I’ve experienced how Austria rose from the ruins of World War Two, caused by the madness of nationalism.”


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