The outgoing Austrian president, environmentalist Alexander Van der Bellen, was re-elected on Sunday on the promise of stability amid the energy crisis. Supported by a broad spectrum of the political class, the 78-year-old candidate won unsurprisingly in the first round with 56.1% of the vote, according to the latest projections by the SORA institute. The official result should not be known until Monday.
“Now is the time to look forward and get down to business,” Van der Bellen said in a video message posted on Facebook. In the alpine country of 9 million inhabitants, 6.4 million voters – including the Austrian-American Arnold Schwarzenegger, a strong supporter of the president – were called to the polls.
Weakened far right
“I am in favor of stability,” Monika Gregor, a 73-year-old retiree, told AFP, calling the president a “very intelligent” man. But others preferred to give their voice to candidates from civil society. Alexander Nittmann, a 35-year-old computer developer, chose the punk singer Dominik Wlazny (8.4% of the votes), his age and founder of the “Beer Party”. “I think a little fresh air in politics doesn’t hurt,” he explained, considering his serious campaign behind the humor.
The far-right party FPÖ, which almost won against Mr. van der Bellen in 2016 and dreamed of revenge this year, is far behind this time. Walter Rosenkranz, a sexagenarian little known by the general public, obtained this Sunday 17.9% of the votes, according to SORA estimates, against the current of the recent elections in Sweden and Italy.
Corruption cases have caused Austria’s notorious far-right to lose ground. Six years ago, she was the first in Europe to come close to victory in a presidential election. Founded by ex-Nazis, the FPÖ ultimately lost with more than 46% of the vote, the epilogue of a vote with twists and turns that had kept Western partners in Brussels and Austria on edge.
If the party had then entered the government by forming a coalition with the conservatives of the young Sebastian Kurz, it had to leave power in 2019 after an incredible scandal and since then it has not recovered its past glory.
Faced with this turmoil and the succession of chancellors, Alexander Van der Bellen, whose function is in practice essentially ceremonial, knew how to guarantee the continuity of the State. He was thus able to present himself as “the only one who can avoid chaos,” political scientist Thomas Hofer had commented before the elections, interviewed by AFP.
This Europeanism also passes for “integrity”, emphasizes Julia Partheymüller, from the University of Vienna, which is “highly appreciated” compared to the “multiple crises that many European countries are going through”. She led a sober campaign, advocating for “clarity” and “competence” to “cross the turmoil as calmly as possible.” Her atypical profile, however, by no means guaranteed her such a political destiny.
Austere, even a little rigid, an agnostic married twice on Catholic soil, the former head of the Greens and dean of the Faculty of Economics in Vienna has managed to forget his strong anchorage in the left to unite people. Ironically, a heavy smoker with an eternal three-day beard, he is now happy to be photographed in loden, a traditional alpine jacket, at the foot of the glaciers to convince of his patriotism.
Because he is an extremely rare environmentalist at the head of a democracy, he is also the son of refugees and has inherited an exotic Batavian surname: his Protestant family emigrated from the Netherlands to Russia in the 18th century. His father, an aristocrat, and his Estonian mother joined Vienna during World War II before moving to Tyrol, fleeing the arrival of the Red Army.