- Voters will go to the polls in presidential elections across Austria tomorrow
- Far-right candidate Norbert Hofer is currently ahead in the opinion polls
- If he wins vote, he will become Europe’s first far-right leader since WWII
- Protesters took to the streets of Vienna to demand ‘No Nazi in the Hofburg’
Allan Hall In Germany For Mailonline
Hundreds of furious Austrians marched through the streets of Vienna on Saturday to protest against far right presidential candidate Norbert Hofer.
The leader of the Freedom Party could tomorrow become the first far right leader to be elected in Europe since WWII.
His anti-immigration stance has alienated many and protesters let their feelings known with banners reading ‘No Nazi in the Hofburg – end with the trivialization of fascism’.
Meanwhile, Hoffer’s supporters claim he will prove he is not a Nazi if he is elected as opinion polls show the result is too close to call.
Anger: Hundreds of furious Austrians marched through the streets of Vienna on Saturday to protest against far-right presidential candidate Norbert Hofer
Fury: The protesters held a sign reading ‘F**k Hoffer’ as they displayed their anger
Reinforcements: Police were present to ensure the protests stayed safe and peaceful
Protesters held banners reading: ‘No Nazi in the Hofburg – end with the trivialization of fascism’
If he wins, Hofer will be the EU’s first far-right head of state in a party first made famous at the turn of the millennium when Joerg Haider propelled the Freedom Party into a coalition government.
His party colleague Andreas Rabl, 44, was elected the mayor of the Austrain city Wels last year.
Among the policies he has implemented are intensive German language training in all schools and requiring all state funded schools and nurseries to celebrate Christian festivals.
Norbert Hofer, a member of the Freedom Party, will send shock waves throughout the political establishments of Europe if he succeeds with polls showing the result is too close to call
Fuming: One protester let his feelings about the far right candidate known on the streets of Vienna
Tension: The police marched alongside the protesters, who led with their huge rude sign
Crowd: Hundreds of protesters gather to rally against Hoffer
On the march: Protesters holding posters which read: ‘No Nazi inside Hofburg palace’
And he has defended his colleague Hofer, saying his policies are a far-cry from the Nazis.
He told the Times: ‘There is this constant message that the FPO is a Nazi party, the new fascism and dictatorial.
‘The foreign report about radicalism and the far-right in Austria, I hear that all of the time. I ask myself, what are they talking about?
‘New facism? I do not see it. Mr Hofer as president would have the opportunity to correct this view. We are a normal right-wing party, correct, but we are a far cry from the Nazi party.’
One of his close friends has claimed that if Mr Hofer is elected, he will prove he is not a Nazi
Rabl’s comments come after it was revealed that if Hofer wins tomorrow’s vote, he will push for a referendum on Austria’s EU membership being dubbed ‘Oexit’.
He is up against independent candidate Alexander Van der Bellen, who is being backed by the Green Party.
And while Hofer is not backing a Brexit-style withdrawal from the bloc, he says he wants a ‘better European Union’ and was afraid of more centralisation in the wake of the British retreat from the club.
‘If the answer to Brexit would be to make a centralised European Union, where the national parliaments are disempowered and where the union is governed like a state….in this case, we would have to hold a referendum in Austria, because it would lead to a constitutional change,’ he said.
During his election campaign, Hofer has enthused supporters, and horrified critics, with comments against Muslims – ‘Islam is not part of our values’ and ‘Islam has no place in Austria’ – and has promised to increase criminal penalties for immigrants committing crimes like rape while cutting back on assistance to newcomers.
While the 45-year-old is not backing a Brexit-style withdrawal from the bloc, he says he wants a ‘better European Union’ and was afraid of more centralisation in the wake of the British retreat from the club
This has prompted anti-fascist demonstrators to hold a ‘F*** Hofer’ rally through Vienna later today.
Meanwhile the election is also being closely watched as both candidates are hoping to exploit the Trump effect in the first EU nation to hold a vote since the US poll.
Experts say how the result plays out could be a barometer of its resonance in other countries with upcoming national elections that also feature strong populist and euro skeptic contenders.
Van der Bellen says he hopes that Trump’s triumph will serve as a ‘wake-up call’ to vote for him against Hofer.
While Hofer previously greeted the U.S. election result as a victory for democracy blasting opponents who ‘wildly berate’ Trump.
It comes as many Austrian voters unhappy with the current ruling coalition, made up of the Social Democrats (SPÖ) and conservative People’s Party (ÖVP), flocked to Hofer and his promise of ‘putting Austria first’.
People walk between election posters in Vienna, Austria ahead of tomorrow’s presidential election
Born on March 2, 1970 into a middle-class family, Hofer grew up as the son of a local ÖVP councillor in Burgenland, the country’s least prosperous state near to the border with Hungary.
After a short stint working for the now-defunct Lauda Air airline, Hofer joined the FPÖ’s Burgenland branch in 1994 and became party secretary two years later.
Moving up through the ranks, he later became a close advisor to Heinz-Christian Strache who took over the party from Haider in 2005.
He often carries a Glock pistol for ‘protection’ and at his swearing-in as Freedom Party candidate, he wore a cornflower in his lapel, which was a Nazi symbol in the 1930s.
However, Hofer denies that his fondness for the cornflower has anything to do with the Nazis.
Under the new leadership, the party initially grew more extremist and re-introduced racist slogans – speech which has been modified by Hofer but, say critics, the party philosophy has not.
An avid social media user, his Instagram account shows him at a gun range with his four children. ‘I just love to shoot,’ he declared in a recent interview. ‘I understand the rising trend of gun owners in Austria given the current uncertainties’.
AT A GLANCE: THE AUSTRIAN PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION
Austrian presidential hopefuls Alexander Van der Bellen and Norbert Hofer, at a TV debate last week
Norbert Hofer and Alexander Van der Bellen, two candidates with strongly different views.
Since announcing his candidacy last year, Hofer has emerged as a major figure of his right-wing populist Freedom Party. The 45-year old engineer rose through party ranks and launched his bid for the presidency from his post as one of three parliamentary presidents. A smooth talker with a ready smile, Hofer changes the style, tone and contents of his message at will – from moderate, when addressing undecided voters to polemical with Freedom Party supporters that play to their euroskeptic and anti-migrant sentiments.
Van der Bellen is running as an independent but is supported by the Green Party, where he held senior positions until 2008. The rumpled-looking former economics professor emigrated from Estonia with his parents as a child. He is strongly supportive of the European Union, advocates liberal migrant policies and often sounds the alarm against what he sees as Europe’s rightward drift toward populism and nationalism.
WHAT ARE THE ISSUES?
The main issue is the political direction of Austria, and in some ways, the European Union. While the president’s functions are mostly ceremonial, a win by Hofer will be seen as a lurch to the right for the country, a development that would be welcomed by other populist euroskeptic politicians within the EU either in power or seeking it.
Victory by Van der Bellen would hearten pro-EU and anti-nationalist leaders alarmed by the growing strength of the right before key national elections next year in France and the Netherlands.
Victory by Van der Bellen, centre, would hearten pro-EU and anti-nationalist leaders alarmed by the growing strength of the right
The longest in Austrian history, the race for the post was supposed to be over in May, when Van der Bellen defeated Hofer by a margin of less than 1 percentage point.
But the Freedom Party contested the result, claiming widespread irregularities and on July 1, Constitutional Court ruled that they had to be re-held. They were then rescheduled for October, only to be pushed back to Dec. 4 after the discovery that the adhesive on some absentee ballots was faulty, meaning they wouldn’t seal.
WHO CAN VOTE, WHEN – AND WHEN WILL THE WINNER BE KNOWN?
About 6.4 million Austrian citizens – all those 16 or over – can vote in thousands of polling stations across the country.
Early results issued by the Interior Ministry will be available about one hour after polls close.
But if the race is as close as it was in May, the contest won’t be decided until absentee ballots are also counted and an official winner is announced on Monday or Tuesday.
Published at Sat, 03 Dec 2016 20:31:40 +0000