2016-12-04 16:15:00

Austria Presidential Elections underway

(Vatican Radio) Austria could get Europe's first far far-right head of state since World War Two following Sunday's presidential election. Norbert Hofer from the far-right Freedom Party faced former Green Party leader Alexander Van der Bellen in a re-run vote after the previous ballot was overturned due to counting irregularities. However Hofer tried to reassure media on Sunday that he is not the radical, opponents accuse him of being.

Listen to Stefan Bos' report

Dubbed “the Austrian Trump” the 45-year-old Hofer appeared confident as opinion polls showed he has a high chance of winning Sunday's election.

Much like the US President-elect Donald Trump, the former aeronautical engineer capitalized on fears surrounding Europe's worst refugee crisis since the second world war and immigration to boost his popularity.

The contest, a re-run of a vote held on May 22 between Hofer and 72-year old left-wing Green party candidate
Alexander Van der Bellen was to close to call. 

Both sides expected a long count after polls closed at 5 PM local time. 


That has raised concerns within the European Union where several leaders fear a far right victory in Austria could
boost similar parties elsewhere in Europe ahead of upcoming elections in France and the Netherlands.

Casting his vote in his home town of Pinkafeld on Sunday, Hofer pledged to build stronger ties with Vladimir Putin’s Russia and said he would be heading to both Washington and Moscow if he wins the presidency.

Yet, he also stressed that he would not no longer push for a referendum on Austria's exit from the European Union but
would focus instead on the EU's positive development.

Speaking about migration, he called for tougher screening of refugees but also said he wanted to help those in need. "We need to build safe zones in northern Africa...To help people there, to help have some time to see if they are really refugees or not," he said.


"And than we have to bring them in a a safe way to bring them over to Europe because so many people died in the sea. I am a level-headed man. If someone needs help we have to help him either in Austria or in his home country," Hofer added.   

Last year some 100, 000 asylum seekers entered Austria - the equivalent of one percent of the population of this country of 8.7 million.

Hofer's opponent, Van der Bellen, is the hope of Austrians who want to stop the anti-migrant and anti-EU Freedom Party.

Van der Bellen has said he wants to unite Austria after a bitter election campaign.

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