There was much surprise, as well as accusations of outright voter fraud, when on Monday the Austrian presidential race - which was set to be won by the candidate of the right wing Austria Freedom Party much to the humiliation of Brussels - Norbert Hofer, was handed to his competitor, Green party candidate Alexander Van der Bellen, with postal votes tipping the final result in the favor of the former despite Hofer winning the outright vote by a solid margin. In retrospect, there may have been reason for the skepticism.
According to Euronews, five voting districts are being investigated in Austria over postal vote irregularities in the close-run presidential election, the interior minister has announced. Allegations of fraud arose from the far-right Freedom party of defeated candidate Norbert Hofer, after the Green candidate Alexander Van der Bellen just scrapped ahead with 31,000 votes when the postal ballot was counted.
The Villach branch of FPO lodged a complaint with the country’s corruption prosecutor over the Carinthia council counting votes on Sunday and not Monday like in the rest of the country.
Speaking on Austrian TV, Freedom Party leader Heinz Christan Strache said, “The democratic result has to be respected. There are many hints from the people, these will be checked by lawyers, and independent people and we have to evaluate that.”
Meanwhile, Hofer himself showed he was not a bitter loser and urged his supporters to accept the defeat, saying there were no signs of electoral fraud. If elected, he would have become the first far-right leader of an EU country.
On the other hand, Hofer's defeact appears to be merely tactical, as the candidate is simply biding his time for the far more important parliamentary elections to be held in 2018. According to Euronews, recent polls suggest his Freedom party would win if parliamentary elections were held now.
And while the Green-backed president elect has vowed to address the divisions which were highlighted by the close-run election, the Freedom Party's current stance of being vehemently anti-immigration, anti-Muslim, and most importantly in opposition for the next two years may be just where it wants to be: just let the current rulers fail to address the ongoing structural demographic problems, and as public anger builds it will only help build even more support for the Freedom Party. As a reminder, the presidential post in Austria is mostly symbolic.