Austria

Could Austria swing to extreme right?

Austria's extreme right Freedom Party presidential candidate, Norbert Hofer.
Austria's extreme right Freedom Party presidential candidate, Norbert Hofer. Reuters/Heinz-Peter Bader
Text by: Karen Burke
7 min

Austria's far right Freedom Party is in its final day of campaigning -- ahead of this weekend's presidential runoff -- in which eurosceptic Norbert Hofer is tipped to become the country's first right-wing populist president. 

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Analysis of the Austrian presidential elections

This is the first time since WW2 that neither of the two mainstream Austrian political parties are vying for the presidency.

On Thursday, hundreds of left wing protestors gathered in Vienna to demonstrate against the anti-Islam FPO.

The protest was organised by the left wing movement, Offensive Against the Right, for which Magdalena Augustin is a spokesperson. She says Hofer must not become president.

"We fear that Hofer would be able to make a lot of changes that are really against democracy," Augustin told RFI. "He is also against human rights and represents the politics of the FPO. He wrote the party programme of FPO and he won't be a president independent of the programme of this party." 

Hofer took more than a third of the vote in April's first round elections, followed by the independent candidate, Alexander Van der Bellen, who's endorsed by the Green Party.

The FPO was founded in part by former Nazis in the 1950s, and experienced a surge in popularity during the 1990s.

"More men than women, more less educated than well educated and more young people than older people are voting for the FPO," says Reinhold Gärtner, a professor at Innesbruck University and an expert in extremist ideologies.

"It's partly a protest vote. A small percentage are German nationlists. There are also links to other right wing popularist parties. They are building a faction in the European Parliament, together with France's Front National and the Netherland's PVV." 

The election of Hofer would send a symbolic message to other European nations at a time when France's right wing National Front is expected to make it through to the second round run-off in next year's election, and Germany's right wing Alternative for Deutschland is making gains.

 "Of course, there is always a temptation in Europe to say that what is happening in other European countries could inspire or could happen, for example, in France or in Spain," says Yves Bertoncini, director of Jacques Delors left-leaning European think tank in Paris. "We have to be cautious in this comparison."

The FPO has worried Europe’s political establishment in the past. When it formed part of the Austrian coalition government in 2000, other nations tried to ostracise the country.

But with other far right parties rising to prominence across Europe, ostracism no longer looks like an option.

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