Alexander Van der Bellen, the independent candidate who is supported by the Green Party, has won Austria’s presidential run-off election, defeating far-right candidate Norbert Hofer.
Van der Bellen, 72, won with 50.3 percent of the vote after all ballots were counted, according to the Federal Interior Ministry. Hofer, who was initially in the lead after Sunday’s election day ballots were counted, received 49.7 percent, a difference of just 31,026 votes.
Van der Bellen ran as an independent but is supported by the Green Party of which he is a member, making him the European Union’s second Green Party head of state, with Latvian President Raimonds Vejonis being the other one.
Hofer, who is a member of the Freedom Party, would have been the European Union’s first far-right leader if he had won the election. Though narrowly losing in the end, support for the far right has been steadily on the rise, largely fueled by security and employment fears over the ongoing refugee crisis.
Austria itself took in more than 90,000 asylum seekers last year, which is more than 1% of its population. This year’s presidential election marked the first time since World War II that both main centrist parties were knocked out during the first round on April 24, which was won by Hofer.
“I would like to thank you for your great support,” Hofer said in a Facebook post on Monday afternoon. “Of course I’m sad today. I would have wanted to watch out for you as president of our wonderful country. I will remain devoted to you and make my contribution for a positive future for Austria.”
The Austrian president plays a largely ceremonial role, with the federal chancellor serving as the de facto chief executive, but the constitution theoretically entrusts great powers to the president, allowing him or her to dissolve parliament, appoint a chancellor or other ministers. and is commander-in-chief of the armed forces.
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