|Green Party candidate, Alexander van Bellen (left) and Freedom Party candidate, Norbert Hofer (right)|
This May, Freedom Party candidate Norbert Hofer won the election for Austrian President by about 1% of the vote--or so it seemed, until the absentee or postal votes were counted, giving a hugely disproportionate advantage to his challenger, Green Party candidate Alexander Van der Bellen, and granting a razor-thin margin of victory for Van der Bellen.
A few hours ago, the Austrian Constitutional Court overturned the results, agreeing with a Freedom Party challenge that there were too many "irregularities" in the way the postal votes were counted.
The ruling is apparently unprecedented. As far as I am aware, it is also final.
Given the recent Brexit result, and the quasi-anti-EU views of the Freedom Party, the sub-headlines of American and European newspapers are beginning to scream with "far-right" this and "trouble" that. (The Freedom Party is often described as "far-right," while the Greens are labeled "left-wing." Alternatively, the Freedom Party is "right-wing" while the Green Party is just that.)
From the Daily Mail:
Austrian presidential election to be re-run after far right candidate who narrowly missed out wins court case due to 'ballot irregularities' with postal votes
Once the absentee ballots were counted, Van Der Bellen was ahead by 30,000, with 50.3 per cent compared with 49.7 for Hofer.
- Austrian far right party wins court challenge over the presidential election
- Norbert Hofer was leading the poll until postal votes were all counted
- The court agreed there had been irregularities in handling the postal votes
- May's presidential election will have to be re-run following the decision
The Freedom Party complained following the vote claiming the law had been contravened in one way or another in most of the 117 electoral districts, including the sorting of absentee ballots before electoral commission officials arrived and related violations of the rules.
The rerun is expected to be held in September or October.
Court president Gerhart Holzinger said: 'The challenge brought by Freedom Party leader Heinz-Christian Strache against the May 22 election... has been upheld.'
Gun enthusiast Hofer, 45, came top in a first round in April but then lost in a runoff with the 72-year-old Van der Bellen, sparking relief among Europe's centrist parties.
Preliminary results had given Hofer a narrow lead but after some 700,000 postal votes were counted, the Greens-backed Van der Bellen was declared the winner of the largely ceremonial post the next day.
The FPOe, which is topping opinion polls ahead of the next scheduled general election in 2018 tapping rising unease about immigration, launched a legal challenge on June 8 claiming massive irregularities.
These included allegations that tens of thousands of votes were opened earlier than allowed under election rules and that some votes were counted by people not authorised to do so.
As the court heard from dozens of witnesses, Van der Bellen's lawyer had described the transgressions as having an 'insignificant' impact on the election result, but in vain.
Friday's ruling stops in its tracks Van der Bellen's planned inauguration on July 8. It is unclear when a new election will be held.
In the meantime, current President Heinz Fischer will still step down as planned and will be replaced on an interim basis by three parliamentary officials - one of whom is Hofer.Read the rest here.