The Austrians vote in the presidential election, the incumbent will win

The Austrians vote in the presidential election, the incumbent will win


Austrians vote on Sunday in a presidential election expected to bring back incumbent Alexander Van der Bellen, seen as a beacon of stability as the Alpine EU member grapples with an energy crisis and inflation.

Van der Bellen, who is campaigning with the slogan ‘clarity’, is widely poised to win a second mandate while his six challengers – all men – are well behind.

“The biggest competitor on Sunday will be the sofa,” said the 78-year-old economics professor on Friday at his last campaign event and called for elections.

Polls assume that the pro-European Liberal will receive more than 50 percent of the vote and thus avoid a runoff.

Around 6.4 million of the country’s nine million inhabitants are entitled to vote.

With placards proclaiming him “the safe bet in stormy times” amid an energy crisis that is sending inflation up across Europe, the former Green Party leader is running as an independent.

But he has the explicit or implicit support of Austria’s major parties, with the exception of the far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ), which has fielded its own candidate, Walter Rosenkranz, who sits second in the polls with 15 percent support.

Also running for the presidency is 35-year-old punk rocker Dominik Wlazny, founder of the Beer Party, named after their championing of the popular drink.

Van der Bellen – affectionately called “the professor” by supporters – faced an unexpectedly tough fight in 2016 and only won the race in a runoff against an FPÖ politician.

But the FPÖ’s ratings have plummeted since 2019 after a corruption scandal toppled the government they were part of and eventually led to the resignation of then-Chancellor Sebastian Kurz himself in 2021.

Analyst Thomas Hofer said it was “crucial” that Van der Bellen avoid a runoff like the one in 2016, when the campaign was “very divisive and hostile”.

– ‘Stability’ –

“Van der Bellen represents integrity and stability, which voters appreciate very much given the multitude of crises that many European countries are currently facing,” Julia Partheymueller, a policy analyst at the University of Vienna, told AFP.

Known for his professorial manner, Van der Bellen will be Austria’s oldest head of state to be sworn in if he wins.

The presidency, with a six-year term, is largely ceremonial.

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

A year later, the arrival of the Red Army forced the family to flee to southern Tyrol, where Van der Bellen spent an “idyllic childhood”.

He studied economics at the University of Innsbruck and received his doctorate in 1970 before becoming Dean of Economics at the University of Vienna.

Polling stations open at 7:00 a.m. local time (0500 GMT) and close at 5:00 p.m. (1500 GMT).

At an election rally last month, Alexandra Hoefenstock said she would vote for Van der Bellen because he handled the political crises well during his last term in office.

“I hope for political stability,” said the 38-year-old Viennese city worker.

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