Independent candidate Alexander Van der Bellen, backed by the Green Party, has become Austria’s new head of state. He barely beat Freedom Party candidate Norbert Hofer.

The Interior Ministry counted over 700,000 ballots, almost 12% of the country’s registered voters, to determine the winner.

Interior Minister Wolfgang Sobotka announced the results:

Van der Bellen reached 50.3 percent, 49.7 Hofer . In absolute terms, the scarcity of the result is visible: 2,254.484 votes could gather Van der Bellen, Hofer 2,223.458. The difference amounts to just 31,026 votes. The turnout was 72.7 percent, significantly higher than the first ballot reached 68.5 percent.

Hofer led Van der Bellen on Sunday with 51.9%. He had the potential to become the European Union’s first far-right leader since the end of World War II.

Hofer admitted defeat on his Facebook page:

Hofer Admist Defeat in Austria

Van der Bellan chose to campaign with a pro-European Union platform while Hofer “tapped into anti-EU sentiment and fears about rising numbers of asylum seekers.”

The president of Austria is considered a ceremonial post. From the BBC:

It is mostly a 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. And Mr Hofer has said he would not swear in a female minister who wore a hijab, which he has described as a sign of oppression.

Van der Bellan, a former economics professor, considers himself a “child of refugees” since his Russian-born father and Estonian-born mother fled to Austria in the 1940s. He left parliament in 2012 when he became a Vienna city councillor and “led the Austrian Greens from 1997 to 2008.” He stepped down when the “party lost votes for the first time in a decade” in 2008. In 2016, he ran in the presidential election as an Independent, but the Green Party financed his campaign like they did this year.

[Featured image via YouTube]


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