Austria waits for election results: A new divided Europe?

Article published on May 23, 2016
Article published on May 23, 2016

The results of the presidential election in Austria are so close that the outcome now depends on postal ballots. The election thriller has already triggered a broad debate. Commentators see it as proof of how deeply divided the country has become and note that Europe's far right will be rubbing its hands in glee.

The country will remain divided - Tages-Anzeigar, Switzerland

After the close election results it's already clear that neither of the two candidates will be able to unite the country, Tages-Anzeiger believes: "We're familiar with the division of society from the examples of Poland and Hungary. Now it's Austria's turn. Whoever the new president turns out to be, he won't be able to overcome this division. During the campaign Hofer divided the country into good and evil: into 'the elites', who support Van der Bellen and 'the people', whom he claims to represent. The hatred and the fantasies of violence that Hofer supporters disseminate in the social media do not bode well for the country's future. But Alexander Van der Bellen is not a gifted mediator either. He can hold out a hand to Social Democrats, conservatives and liberal Christians. But he has no rapport with the angry voters." (23/05/2016)

Regain the support of Hofer's voters - Die Press, Austria

Die Presse calls for an appropriate and measured reaction to the election results: "That doesn't mean standing in front of cameras and blustering about taking the fears and worries of voters more seriously. It would be better to do everything possible to ensure that those fears and worries don't arise in the first place. To ensure that measures are taken as quickly as possible to increase the subjective and ideally also the objective sense of security in the country. To ensure that unemployment goes down and that the need for the EU is better explained to the people. To ensure that not so many people have the feeling that they are paying more into the system than they are getting out of it. Ideally, the new Chancellor Christian Kern and Vice Chancellor Reinhold Mitterlehner will manage to make a fresh start with a more positive general mood. But this will only be possible if they and the president can somehow regain the support of the nearly half of the electorate that has voted for Hofer." (23/05/2016)

Other countries must respect election results - Lidové noviny, Czech Republic

It's understandable that before the election all kinds of European functionaries, activists and politicians tried to tell the Austrians who to vote for. But now they must accept the outcome, Lidové noviny advises: "Railing at voters or trying to 'educate them' is out of order here. The Austrians will take care of their own affairs without good advice from abroad. They have no choice but to go along with the results even if the right-wing populist Hofer emerges as the winner. Past experience has already shown that a European 'quarantine' [as was imposed in 2000 because of the FPÖ's participation in government under its leader at the time Jörg Haider] won't do any good. Other states in Europe will have to fend off right-wing populists who have been bolstered by the wave of refugees in their own elections soon. So these countries already have enough to deal with." (23/05/2016

The far right has already scored a victory - La Libre Belgique, Belgium

The FPÖ and the far right in Europe already have every reason to celebrate the election outcome, La Libre Belgique comments: "Whether or not he becomes president, Hofer will have pulled off a major coup for the FPÖ - a party which, even if it toned down his speeches, counts nostalgics of the Third Reich in its ranks. It's also a success for all far-right parties in Europe. The fact that half of an electorate considers a member of the far right fit to hold the highest public office goes a long way toward legitimising the latter's nationalist, authoritarian and xenophobic ideals. Certainly, each electoral advance on the part of the far right reflects a given national context. But the flaws of representative democracy and the unkept promises of the European Union and economic globalisation are clearly showing their impact here." (23/05/2016)

The dawn of a new divided Europe - Polityka, Poland

Author Adam Szostkiewicz warns in his blog with Polityka that a victory for Hofer is just what the European far-right wants: "They would see it as proof that the people of Europe want 'a change for the better'. In their view this should initially occur in the way Kaczyński and Orbán introduced it in their countries. But later, if these politicians turn out to be too slack, opportunities will open up for truly far-right groups like Jobbik. You can travel the 500 kilometres from Kraków to Vienna on the blue Danube in just four to five hours. But if the Danube turns brown [the colour associated with the Nazi Party] the trip will no longer be a pleasant one. For example, passport and customs inspections will be reintroduced because the Schengen Area will no longer exist. ... A new chapter will start for the EU; one characterised by division." (23/05/2016)

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