Austria's Crazy Close Election Sign of Split Europe
Far-right candidate loses by less than 1%
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted May 23, 2016 11:43 AM CDT
A file image of Alexander Van der Bellen, left, and far-right candidate Norbert Hofer.   (AP Photo/Ronald Zak,File)

(Newser) – Left-leaning candidate Alexander Van der Bellen won the election to become Austrian president Monday, but his right-wing rival was only narrowly behind—a result that reflects the growing strength of Europe's anti-EU political movements. Right-winger Norbert Hofer had been narrowly ahead of Van der Bellen, a Greens politician running as an independent, after the counting of votes cast on Sunday. But around 700,000 absentee ballots still remained to be counted Monday, and those numbers swung the victory to Van der Bellen by a margin of 50.3% to 49.7%. Only a little more than 31,000 votes separated the two, out of more than 4.6 million ballots cast.

The results ease the scenario that Austria's political landscape could immediately move away from its EU-friendly image with a president who could increase pressure on the government to further tighten its migrant polices. Still, the narrow margin of victory for Van der Bellen is the latest indication that Europe's anti-establishment parties are gaining in influence. Hofer announced his defeat shortly before the official announcement in a Facebook post thanking his backers. He acknowledged he is "naturally sad," adding: "I would have been happy to have cared for our wonderful country as federal president." His post said that the work of his supporters during the election is "not lost but an investment in the future."