Austrian president secures re-election in first round of voting

President Alexander Van der Bellen, who campaigned on a slogan of ‘clarity’, was widely tipped to grab a second mandate.

Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen speaking
Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen won re-election on Sunday with a projected 56 percent of the vote, thereby avoiding a run-off [Leonhard Foeger/Reuters]

Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen on Sunday secured a second six-year term in office by winning a clear majority of votes and avoiding a run-off, according to projections.

The far-right Freedom Party was the only one in parliament to field a candidate against Van der Bellen, who won a much tighter race against a Freedom Party opponent in 2016.

“A majority is easily said but an absolute majority means more votes than all others combined, and one must take that very seriously,” Van der Bellen told national broadcaster ORF. “I was not at all sure that it would happen, but it did, and I am very pleased.”

With 95 percent of votes counted, a projection by pollster SORA put Van der Bellen winning 56.1 percent with a margin of error of 1.1 percentage points. His nearest rival was the Freedom Party’s Walter Rosenkranz at 17.9 percent.

The Austrian president has a largely ceremonial role, but the officeholder also has sweeping powers during periods of overseeing transition and turbulence. The president is the commander in chef of the army and can sack the whole government or the chancellor.

About 6.4 million people were eligible to vote out of a population of nine million.

Van der Bellen, 78, has the explicit or implicit backing of Austria’s major parties except for the Freedom Party.

“Alexander Van der Bellen really managed to ensure in the first round that he will be the next president,” Rosenkranz said. “I congratulate him on that.”

Also standing for the presidency was punk rocker Dominik Wlazny, 35, founder of the Beer Party, named for its advocacy of the popular beverage.

The votes counted on Sunday did not include postal ballots, which will be tallied on Monday, but projections are for the result as a whole. Those projections have proved highly reliable in the past.

Oldest head of state

Van der Bellen, who supporters affectionately call “the professor”, faced an unexpectedly tough fight in 2016, only winning the race in a run-off against a Freedom Party politician.

However, the Freedom Party’s ratings have plummeted since 2019 after a corruption scandal brought down the government they were part of and eventually led to the resignation of then-chancellor Sebastian Kurz in 2021.

Van der Bellen will be Austria’s oldest head of state to be sworn in.

Van der Bellen – also known as “Sascha”, a nickname that nods to his Russian roots – was born during World War II in Vienna to an aristocratic Russian father and an Estonian mother who fled Stalinism.

He studied economics at the University of Innsbruck and finished his doctorate in 1970 before going on to become dean of economics at the University of Vienna.

Source: News Agencies