European Jewish Congress
Austrian far-right party's triumph in presidential poll could spell turmoil
EJC in the Media
Austrian far-right party's triumph in presidential poll could spell turmoil

Austria is braced for political turmoil amid fears that the landslide victory for a rightwing populist and gun-carrying candidate in Sunday’s first-round presidential vote could trigger snap elections.

Norbert Hofer, of the rightwing Freedom party (FPÖ), defied pollsters’ predictions to beat the Green party’s Alexander Van der Bellen into second place, gaining 36% of the vote. The two candidates will go head to head in a run-off ballot on 22 May.

While the presidential post is mainly a ceremonial role, Hofer has threatened to make use of a right to dissolve parliament before the 2018 elections, warning other candidates in a TV debate that “you will be surprised by what can be done [by a president]”.

Hofer, a youthful 45-year-old who is partially paralysed after a paragliding accident, has campaigned for disability rights and is seen as having lent a friendly face to a party that balances virulently anti-immigration and Eurosceptic messages with leftist stances on welfare issues, led by firebrand Heinz-Christian Strache.

Hofer, who claims to protect himself in the “uncertain times” of the refugee crisis by carrying a Glock gun, scored overwhelming victories in all of Austria’s states apart from Vienna. In Styria, Burgenland and Carinthia – border states most affected by the refugee trail from the Mediterranean to central Europe – Hofer managed to gain 40% or more.

Some constitutional experts question whether Austria’s president would be able to dissolve parliament without the orders of the government, though since the presidential role has previously only ever been filled by politicians from the two main centrist parties, the situation is without precedent.

On Sunday night, while describing the result as a “rendezvous with history”, Hofer made clear that he regarded the result as “intermediary step” on the way to a wider challenge to Austria’s political system.

The FPÖ is also leading polls for the parliamentary elections, with about 30% of the vote.

Should the FPÖ manage to return to government, it would ring alarm bells across the continent, with Austria joining a growing block of authoritarian and Eurosceptic governments led by Hungary and Poland. Hofer has signalled he would refuse to sign the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership agreement with the US even if it was passed by his government.

Sunday’s result was feted by far-right politicians across Europe, including Geert Wilders in the Netherlands and France’s Marine Le Pen, as well as politicians from Italy’s Lega Nord and Germany’s far-right National Democratic party. Italy’s prime minister, Matteo Renzi, warned that the result could have consequences for the border region between Austria and Italy: “It would be a problem for Europe if the Brenner pass would be closed,” he said.

Whatever the outcome on 22 May, it will be the first time since 1945 that the country’s president has not come from the two centrist parties, the social democrats (SPÖ) and the Christian democrats (ÖVP), who barely managed to scramble together a quarter of the vote.

Second-placed Alexander Van der Bellen is an outsider candidate in his own right who ran for office without the official endorsement of the Green party and has criticised the Austrian government’s cap on asylum seekers. The 72-year-old veteran will now hope for endorsements from the mainstream parties to block Hofer’s rise to power.

Johannes Pollak, a political scientist at the Institute of Advanced Studies in Vienna, said Van der Bellen was a marginal favourite to win. “The established parties will do their best to stop a rightwing populist from coming to power. But after this political earthquake, it is hard to make a certain prognosis.”

Reinhard Heinisch, professor of political science at Salzburg University, said the momentum was on the side of the rightwing candidate: “Especially if the FPÖ manages to frame the next round of the election around a polarising issues – for or against refugees, for example – the establishment parties face an uphill battle,” he said.

“On the surface, the situation may look similar to that in the US, but in America even the leftwing candidate Bernie Sanders has embraced a reformist agenda. In Austria, only the right has spelled this out.”

“A weakening of the parliament, an end to the division of powers, opposition to Brussels and a curtailing of the freedom of press: Vienna would not only be geographically located east of Prague, but politically too,” wrote columnist Gerfried Sperl in Der Standard.

Moshe Kantor, president of the European Jewish Congress, described the Freedom party’s rise as “deeply troubling”. “That a country at the heart of Europe can show such support to the far right barely 70 years on from the Holocaust shows that our collective memories are failing,” he said.

Click here to read the full article in The Guardian

Tuesday, April 26, 2016
More News
Politico:
Austria’s conservatives and right-wing populists surged to victory in Sunday’s parliamentary election, according to early projections, heralding a tectonic shift in the country’s politics after more than a decade under a centrist coalition.
Subscribe to our Newsletter
Life in Israel
  • First fully disabled-accessible synagogue opened in Jerusalem
    Construction of the first fully disabled-accessible synagogue in Jerusalem is about to be finished, giving disabled worshipers easy access to the compound, with comfortable seating arrangements for wheelchair-bound visitors, Braille bibles and more.

    On Wednesday, October 11, 2017 First fully disabled-accessible synagogue opened in Jerusalem
  • Survey: 60 percent of Arab Israelis have a positive view of the state
    A poll of Israeli Arabs has found that sixty percent surveyed said they had a favourable view of the state, while 37% said their view was unfavourable.

    On Wednesday, October 04, 2017 Survey: 60 percent of Arab Israelis have a positive view of the state
  • Israel's trade with Russia leaps by 25 percent
    Trade between Israel and Russia has grown this year by 25 percent, officials from both countries revealed, amid complications with other Russian trading partners.

    On Wednesday, October 04, 2017 Israel's trade with Russia leaps by 25 percent
  • Israel aims to double the number of people working in hi-tech
    The Israel Innovation Authority aims to double the number of high-tech workers in the country over the next decade, while encouraging companies in older industry to use more technology and become more innovative, the authority said in its annual report released on Sunday.

    On Wednesday, October 04, 2017 Israel aims to double the number of people working in hi-tech
  • 20,000 Gazan lulavs arrive in Israel
    A shipment of 20,000 date palm fronds were transported on Monday from the Gaza Strip to Israel where they were to be sold for use in a traditional Jewish religious ritual during the coming Sukkot holiday, the Defence Ministry said.

    On Wednesday, October 04, 2017 20,000 Gazan lulavs arrive in Israel
  • Israeli intelligence helped to thwart dozens of terror attacks around the world
    The Israeli intelligence community has shared information with other countries over the past two years that has helped thwart dozens of terror attacks about to be perpetrated by Islamists who were in contact with members of Islamic State and Middle Eastern factions identified with Al-Qaida.

    On Thursday, September 28, 2017 Israeli intelligence helped to thwart dozens of terror attacks around the world
  • IDF declares war on smoking
    IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot has approved new measures to combat smoking in the military after new data revealed smoking during army service rose by 40 percent.

    On Wednesday, September 20, 2017 IDF declares war on smoking
  • Thousands take part in race commemorating fallen Druze police officers
    Thousands of participants took part on Friday in a race to commemorate the 421 Druze fighters who fell in all of Israel's battles and terror attacks.

    On Wednesday, September 20, 2017 Thousands take part in race commemorating fallen Druze police officers
  • Tamar and Mohammed top Israel's baby name list
    The most popular baby names in Israel over the past year were Tamar for girls and Mohammad for boys, the two favourites remaining at the top of their lists for the third consecutive year, according to figures released on Sunday by the Interior Ministry.

    On Wednesday, September 20, 2017 Tamar and Mohammed top Israel's baby name list
  • Syrians express gratitude for Israeli field hospitals
    Dozens of Syrian civilians have written letters of gratitude to Israel and the IDF for establishing field hospitals on its northern border which provided, and continue to provide, medical care to numerous victims wounded in the country's ongoing violent civil war.

    On Thursday, September 14, 2017 Syrians express gratitude for Israeli field hospitals
President's Page Security and Crisis Centre by EJC European Parliament Working Group On Antisemitism