Austrian Court to Rule on Far-Right Challenge to Presidency Vote

  • Freedom Party complained after narrowly losing election
  • Hearings unveiled widespread formal mistakes, no manipulation

Austria’s Constitutional Court is set to announce its ruling on the nation’s contested presidential election Friday after the populist Freedom Party disputed the result.

The Freedom Party brought Austria’s first ever legal challenge to the result of an national election after its candidate Norbert Hofer lost against Alexander Van der Bellen by just over 30,000 votes out of more than 4.5 million cast in the May 22 run-off. The court questioned about 90 witnesses from various election districts and discovered widespread cases of violations in counting mail ballots.

While no actual manipulation has been claimed or proven in the proceedings, the court hasn’t required that in its previous cases. So far, it’s only required plaintiffs to show that rules were violated in precincts affecting enough votes to potentially alter the result.

The irregularities uncovered are “highly unacceptable,” sitting President Heinz Fischer told ORF radio in an interview Friday. “There really has to be a new spirit.” The court is due to hand down its ruling at noon in Vienna.

Click here to read a Q&A about the election challenge.

The conflict in the courtroom has added to the divisions in Austria exposed by Van der Bellen’s narrow victory, which foiled Hofer’s bid to become the first populist head of state in western Europe since World War II. After two rounds of voting characterized by a national political divide over migration and relations with the European Union, Van der Bellen, a Green politician who ran as an independent, took 50.35 percent of the vote.

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