Austria far-right candidate Norbert Hofer defeated in presidential poll

Far-right presidential candidate in Austria, Norbert Hofer, after the result becomes clear, 4 December 2016Image copyrightREUTERS
Image caption“Infinitely sad” – Norbert Hofer admits defeat

Far-right candidate Norbert Hofer has lost Austria’s presidential election.

On Facebook, he described himself as “infinitely sad” and congratulated Alexander Van der Bellen, former head of the Greens, on his victory.

Although the post is ceremonial in Austria, the poll had been seen as a sign of how well populist candidates might do elsewhere in Europe.

Mr Van der Bellen called the result a vote for a “pro-European” Austria based on “freedom, equality and solidarity”.

Established parties and European Union leaders are likely to welcome the result.

France, the Netherlands and Germany all face elections next year in which anti-mainstream and anti-immigration parties are gaining ground.

A referendum under way in Italy is being closely followed for further signs of anti-establishment populism, with polls suggesting a setback for centre-left Prime Minister Matteo Renzi.

But the Austrian results surprised many.

Relief, for now: Analysis by Katya Adler, BBC Europe Editor

The sigh of relief at the outcome of Austria’s presidential election was very loud indeed in Brussels with most European leaders delighted that the EU and establishment-friendly, internationalist-minded Mr Van der Bellen will become president.

But voters in Austria – as across much of Europe and in the US – were divided. There weren’t many percentage points between the presidential candidates. So there will be disappointment tonight, too, amongst those who support a more nationalist-minded, anti-globalisation, immigration-limiting point of view.

If we’ve learnt one thing from Brexit and the US elections, it’s that voters are in an unpredictable mood. Anti-establishment sentiment is on the rise, but election victories for Europe’s so-called populists are far from inevitable.

Opinion polls in the run-up to Sunday’s vote suggested the result was too close to call.

Projections based on early results now give Mr Van der Bellen roughly 53% to 46% for Mr Hofer. The margin could change, but officials said the result would not.

The election was a re-run of May’s poll which suffered irregularities in the postal vote. Mr Van der Bellen also won in May.

Unity call

The election campaign ahead of Sunday’s vote was bitter, with both candidates trading insults and election posters being defaced.

Supporters of the independent candidate in Austria's presidential election, Alexander van der Bellen, celebrate his victory, 4 December 2016Image copyrightAFP
Image captionInfinitely glad – Alexander Van der Bellen’s supporters in Vienna as his victory became clear

Mr Hofer, the candidate for the anti-immigration Freedom Party, conceded within minutes of the first projections in this rerun.

He thanked supporters and described himself as “infinitely sad that it hasn’t worked out”.

He called on all Austrians to work together, “regardless of how we cast our ballots”.

Mr Hofer had campaigned on an anti-immigration platform amid disquiet in Austria at an influx of refugees. Establishment parties feared a victory for him could give a boost to the Freedom Party in the next parliamentary election.

Green Party candidate in Austria's presidential election, Alexander Van der Bellen, after casting his vote, 4 December 2016Image copyrightAFP
Image captionMr Van der Bellen appears to have won by a significant margin

He had also suggested Austria could follow Britain’s vote to leave the EU with a referendum of its own but later appeared to row back, suggesting changing the bloc into a purely economic association.

The leader of France’s anti-immigration Front National, Marine Le Pen,congratulated the Freedom Party on its campaign and looked forward to victory in Austria’s parliamentary poll.

Full official results are not expected until Monday once postal ballots have been counted. Nearly 6.5 million Austrians were eligible to vote.


Alexander Van der Bellen

Alexander Van der Bellen in Vienna, 22 MayImage copyrightAFP
  • Age: 72
  • Background: Economics professor
  • Politics: Former Green Party leader
  • On Trump: “His campaign style, the sexist attacks were unacceptable. As regards content he has raised concerns – let’s give him several months”
  • On immigration: “I want a liberal, cosmopolitan Austria. What I do object to is lifting the old borders”

Norbert Hofer

Norbert Hofer in Pinkafeld, Austria, 22 MayImage copyrightEPA
  • Age: 45
  • Background: Aeronautical engineer
  • Politics: Far-right Freedom Party
  • On Trump: “I’m no Trump fan, but I do have high hopes of improved relations with Russia.”
  • On Germany’s decision to open its doors to refugees: “I say we’re not managing. It was a major mistake that has inflicted massive costs on the entire EU, as well as Austria and taxpayers.”