Apr 24

Latest Shock From Europe’s Refugee Crisis: Austria Right-Wing Party Sweeps First Round Of Presidential Election:

The fallout of popular anger emanating from Europe’s refugee crisis, which may have moderated in recent weeks following Europe’s desperate attempts to bribe Turkey to keep as many refugees in its borders as possible (unleashing the era of unprecedented Turkish leverage over European sovereigns, including Germany and the Netherlands) continued today with a dramatic result from the first round of Austria’s presidential election, where initial results showed that the candidate of the Freedom Party, Austria’s right-wing, anti-immigrant party has swept his competition, gathering over 35% of the vote and leaving the other five candidates far behind.

norbert hofer
Austrian far right Freedom Party (FPOe) presidential candidate Norbert

Hofer during the final election rally in Vienna, Austria, April 22, 2016

Among the losers were the hopefuls nominated by the government coalition, reflecting significant voter dissatisfaction with the country’s political status quo.

The early triumph by Norbert Hofer of the Freedom Party is his party’s best-ever showing since its creation after World War II. Its previous best result was more than 27% in elections that decided Austria’s membership in the European Union.

According to AP, with just over 50% of polling stations reporting into the central electoral office, Hofer was far ahead of Alexander Van der Bellen and Irmgard Griss, both running as independents and within one percentage point of each other at close to 20%.

But the worst news today was for Rudolf Hundstorfer of the center-left Social Democrats and Andreas Khol of the centrist People’s Party, which form the present government coalition and have ruled either alone or together for much of the post-World-War II era. Both were polling at 11% in yet another confirmation of the anti-establishment revulsion sweeping not across just Europe, but virtually the entire world. Only political outsider Richard Lugner did more poorly, at under 3%.

Austrian Freedom Party
Members of the right-wing Austrian Freedom Party (FPOe) celebrate

at the his party headquarters during Austrian presidential elections
in Vienna, Austria, 24 April 2016. (EPA Photo)

However, it may be too soon to declare a victory for the right-win party. The preliminary results show Van der Bellen and Griss in a close race to challenge Hofer in the May 22 runoff with both just under 12 percent support. That second round race will likely be closer, with most of those opposed to the Freedom Party expected to give one of the independents their support.

Hofer’s triumph reflects recent polls showing Freedom Party popularity. Driven by concerns over Europe’s migrant crisis, support for his party has surged to 32% compared with just over 20% for each of the governing parties.

However, Austrian voters were unhappy with the Social Democrats and the People’s Party even before the migrant crisis last year forced their coalition government to swing from open borders to tough asylum restrictions. Their bickering over key issues,  most recently tax, pension and education reform, has fed perceptions of political stagnation.

One person who will be watching the outcome of the May 22 runoff will be French 2017 presidential election frontrunner, National Front’s Marine Le Pen, who in recent polls has a double digit lead over her nearest competitor, and who stands to gain the most from the rising tide of immigrant and refugee anger that has swept across Europe in recent months. Considering her campaign promise to pull out of the Euro if elected, her ascendancy if unchecked, could have a far more calamitous outcome for the future of the common currency than this summer’s Brexit vote.

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