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Presidential election in Austria: towards an annulation of the election?

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Austria – The verdict of the Constitutional Court has not yet been decided but all indications are that the result of the presidential election could be invalidated.

The Austrian presidential election, of which the second round was held on Sunday, May 22, 2016, brought to the fore an extremely tight vote between the national populist candidate Norbert Hofer (FPÖ) and the independent far-left ecologist Alexander Van der Bellen. In the end, Alexander Van der Bellen had won by a hair, with 50.3% of votes cast, which means avictory by only 30,000 votes ahead.

The second round of the Austrian presidential election made clear the divide between the urban centers and the rest of the country.
The second round of the Austrian presidential election made clear the divide between the urban centers and the rest of the country.

This victory had been announced on the Monday following the election, with the inclusion of postal votes. According to the vote cast at the polls Sunday, May 22, Norbert Hofer was leading the vote.

Unlike France, where people can not vote give proxy (a person who physically goes to the polling station to vote in their place), in Austria those who wish have the possibility to vote by posting in a letter specifically for this purpose. However, well-defined rules for the counting of ballots do exist.

Suspicions of irregularities were soon raised by activists of the Freedom Party, which called for calm so to be able to study the elements with confidence. The FPÖ has finally lodged a complaint.
The Austrian Constitutional Court continues from Monday, June 20, its hearings of members of election commissions. 94 of 117 districts are affected.

The law says that the envelopes of postal voting shall be opened on Monday from 9:00 in the presence of representatives of the parliamentary parties. But in many districts, the envelopes were opened or pre-sorted and counted from Sunday by officials in the absence of party representatives, thus without independent monitoring.

Potential manipulations have therefore been possible, however none is proven yet.

In light of these revelations at the Constitutional Court, the Austrian Minister of the Interior Wolfgang Sobotka (ÖVP, Christian Democrat) said he was “extremely disappointed” by these “oversights” that the massive scope is “unsustainable” and considers “more than shameful that lawyers have asked for blank signatures”of members of election commissions.

Thus, it appears more and more likely that the Court will annul – at least partially – the second round of the Austrian presidential elections.

The official inauguration of Mr. Van Der Bellen must intervene on Friday, July 8. This means that the Constitutional Court of Austria has until July 6 to decide on the validity or invalidity of the presidential election.

If canceled, new elections could be held at fall. The Presidency of the Republic would be vacant and the function temporarily provided by the three Presidents (the President and the two Vice-Presidents) of the National Council (the Austrian equivalent of the French National Assembly). Norbert Hofer is the second vice president of the National Council.

Originally published on Alsace Actu.
Translated from French by the Visegrád Post.

Read also: The Austrian presidential election is not over: FPÖ challenged presidential election results