Freedom party claims irregularities in May election – which it narrowly lost – raising prospect of repeat vote in affected regions
By Philip Oltermann in Berlin
Austria’s far-right Freedom party (FPÖ) will contest the outcome of last month’s presidential elections, it has announced.
In a knife-edge contest that divided the country and captured the attention of the entire continent, the FPÖ candidate, Norbert Hofer, lost to Green-endorsed Alexander Van der Bellen by 30,863 votes.
In the immediate aftermath of the election, Hofer had appealed to his supporters to accept Van der Bellen as president. “We should all pull together,” Hofer said at the time. “There are no signs of electoral fraud.”
But at a press conference on Wednesday, the FPÖ leader, Heinz-Christian Strache, claimed that reports of irregularities in 94 voting districts “obliged” his party to contest the result.
Norbert Hofer, presidential runner-up, FPO
“We are not bad losers, but this is about securing the foundations of democracy,” Strache said. “You don’t have to be a conspiracy theorist for these irregularities to give you a funny feeling.” The FPÖ has handed in a 150-page complaint to Austria’s constitutional court that details the alleged irregularities.
If the court investigates the alleged irregularities, it could lead to a repeat of the vote in the affected regions. A ruling is expected before 8 July, the date that Van der Bellen is due to be sworn in as president.
The FPÖ leadership appears to have felt emboldened by the interior ministry’s decision to investigate allegations of malpractice on behalf of electoral commissions in six districts in Carinthia, Styria and Lower Austria.
In some cases the interior ministry established that counting centres had begun to process postal votes on the eve of the election, rather than on the day after the election, as Austrian electoral law requires.
While postal votes did prove crucial in winning the election for Van der Bellen, commentators point out that the economist would have edged ahead of his rightwing competitor even without the votes in the six voting districts where irregularities are being investigated.
In order to proceed with the FPÖ’s complaint, the constitutional court would first have to establish whether the alleged irregularities could have proved crucial in determining the overall outcome.
The FPÖ has repeatedly called for the abolition of the postal vote in its current form. “The postal vote we have is an error in the system, it should have been abolished,” Strache said on Wednesday.
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About the author
Philip Oltermann is the Berlin bureau chief, and the author of Keeping Up With the Germans: A History of Anglo-German Encounters