Austria far right freezes out coalition in presidency race

Updated: 2016-04-26 14:58


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Austria far right freezes out coalition in presidency race

Presidential candidate Norbert Hofer (R) and head of the Austrian Freedom party Heinz-Christian Strache (L) react at the party headquarter in Vienna, Austria, April 24, 2016. [Photo/Agencies]

"Food for thought"

Around 70 percent of eligible voters cast their ballots, a big turnout compared with around 50 percent six years ago when Social Democrat Heinz Fischer, now 77, was elected for his second term. He could not run for a third term.

Peter McDonald, general secretary of co-ruling People's Party acknowledged the scale of the defeat after coming in fifth in the poll with just 11.2 percent of the vote.

"We have experienced a landslide that should give the entire political center food for thought," he said.

The social democratic Chancellor Werner Faymann, whose party ranked fourth, said the outcome was a clear warning to the government to work harder and cooperate better.

Should Hofer get the top job, he could push to bring forward a parliamentary election due to take place in 2018 as support for his party has been growing.

Polls show the Freedom Party above 30 percent, while the coalition parties would struggle to get a combined majority.

Showing the far right's growing confidence in Europe, Marine Le Pen, leader of France's National Front, hailed a "beautiful result", writing on Twitter: "Bravo to the Austrian people".

Both the candidates that made it through to the run-off had taken aim at the government over its handling of the migrant crisis. Van der Bellen criticised the government for being too harsh in its treatment of asylum applicants, while Hofer says it has been too soft.

"It could hardly be any more dramatic," said political consultant Thomas Hofer, adding that he thought Van der Bellen would face a difficult task to win the run-off with the gap between him and Hofer.

Neither Faymann nor Vice Chancellor Reinhold Mitterlehner from the People's Party said they would make any recommendation for the run-off. Voters should decide independently, they said.

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