Austrian far-right party launches challenge of presidential poll result

Autriche Resultats Contestes Afp

Autriche Resultats Contestes Afp

Austria’s right-wing Freedom Party (FPO) is formally challenging the result of last month’s presidential election, which its candidate lost by a narrow margin, legal officials said Wednesday.

The FPO is claiming numerous irregularities in the May 22 election, particularly for the absentee vote count, said Constitutional Court spokesman Christian Neuwirth.

“(The) challenge by Heinz-Christian Strache of the presidential run-off vote has arrived at the Constitutional Court,” Neuwirth said on Twitter, without elaborating. APA news agency said the FPO filed a 150-page document with the court.

FPO candidate Norbert Hoffer was leading after polls closed. But final results after a count of absentee ballots put former Green Party politician Alexander Van der Bellen ahead with only a little more than 30,000 votes.

The final count showed Van der Bellen with 50.3 percent, compared to 49.7 percent for Hofer.

The court challenge could result in at least a partial recount if the court rules in favour of the party, which had suggested it might contest the results shortly after they were announced.

Party leader Heinz-Christian Strache said then that the party had received substantial “diverse information” on possible irregularities.

Sigh of relief

While the post of president is largely ceremonial in Austria, Hofer would have been the first far-right head of state in the European Union. Governments across the continent breathed a sigh of relief at his defeat.

But the Freedom Party is now threatening to revive a contest that split the country almost exactly in two, with workers and rural areas largely backing Hofer and cities and the highly educated leaning towards Van der Bellen.

Once the challenge is officially filed, Austria’s Constitutional Court will decide whether to accept it. For that, it must find that the law was broken and that the breach might have affected the election’s outcome.