In yet another slap in the face for an already reeling Europe, moments ago Austria’s Constitutional Court ruled on Friday that the presidential runoff election must be held again, handing the Freedom Party’s narrowly defeated candidate another chance to become the first right-wing head of state in the European Union. Norbert Hofer of the anti-immigration FPO lost the May 22 vote to former Greens leader Alexander Van der Bellen by less than one percentage point, or around 31,000 votes, all due to mailed-in ballots.
This prompted a loud outcry of allegations that the vote had been rigged. As it turns out the allegations were spot on.
As a reminder, one month ago – in the aftermath of the Freedom Party candidate’s loss by a negligible margin in the Austrian presidential runoff election – five voting districts were being investigated over postal vote irregularities in the close-run presidential election. Allegations of fraud arose from the far-right Freedom party of defeated candidate Norbert Hofer, after the Green candidate Alexander Van der Bellen just scrapped ahead with 31,000 votes when the postal ballot was counted. As a result, the anti-immigrant Freedom Party had challenged the election result earlier this month, alleging “catastrophic” violations of election law, especially in how mail-in ballots were processed.
Many were sceptical that anything of substance would be found, and yet that is precisely what happened: as the WSJ reports, the court found law violations in “many districts” in how the May 22 second-round vote was carried out, Mr. Neuwirth said. “It is for the [Constitutional Court] completely clear that the laws that regulate an election must be applied rigorously.”
“The challenge is granted,” chief justice Gerhart Holzinger said in announcing the verdict in Vienna
The decision comes a week after Britain delighted anti-EU groups such as the Freedom Party (FPO) by voting to leave the bloc. Concerns about immigration and jobs featured prominently in the Brexit referendum, as they did in Austria’s knife-edge election.
As Reuters adds, the court said that widespread irregularities in the counting of the more than 700,000 postal ballots cast meant there was enough doubt over the election’s outcome for a re-run to be ordered.
Whether a re-run of the vote for the largely ceremonial post of president will have a different outcome this time is unclear. The Brexit vote could buoy populist sentiment or have a chilling effect on it.
The court said it was using its strict standard on the application of election rules. Those rules were broken in a way that might have influenced the result, but there was no proof that the count had been manipulated, it said in its ruling.
However, if the Freedom Party does end up winning after a recount, it will confirm that in addition to using fearmongering tactics, the Euro-faithful resort to such blatant measures as outright vote fraud (in addition to rigging bookie odds) in order to preserve a dying status quo. Which would mean that any and all future polls and referenda in which the future of the EU is at stake will be even more closely scrutizined, while concerns about a “rigged system” will rise to unseen levels.
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