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15 June 2016

Legal Expert: Austrian Election May Be Re-Run


A legal scholar of the Austrian constitution has claimed that while some may laugh at the idea of a do-over of the Austrian presidential election, the arguments are more compelling than most realise.

Austrian constitutional legal scholar and University of Vienna professor Theo Öhlinger says that the new complaint over the Austrian presidential election launched by the populist anti-mass migration Freedom Party (FPÖ) could be more serious than many realise.

The FPÖ candidate Norbert Hofer lost the second round of the presidential election to former Green party leader Alexander Van der Bellen by only 30,863 votes on 22 May. According to Mr. Öhlinger, a new 150-page document that challenges the election has at least two complaints that he considers “very serious,” he told Der Standard.

The complaints over the election revolve around the postal vote system that many in Austria, including FPÖ leader Heinz-Christian Strache, believe can be too easily manipulated.

The FPÖ recently announced that they would be making a formal complaint to challenge the results of the close election due to the multiple irregularities they claimed arose from the postal ballot process.  Before the postal vote, candidate Norbert Hofer was leading president-elect Alexander Van der Bellen. The 700,000 postal ballots secured Mr. Van der Bellen the victory over the FPÖ candidate.

Mr. Öhlinger told Der Standard that there was a serious concern over postal votes being counted by municipal government officers instead of the electoral commission who are supposed to count them. Election results were also being published online before the closing of polling stations, the professor added.

While the court has until 6 July to decide whether or not to take the FPÖ claim seriously and hold another election, Mr. Öhlinger said that the prediction of what way the electoral commission would rule has become more and more uncertain as time has passed.  Previously, he had believed that the claims of the FPÖ were insufficient to hold another election but now things may be different.

Mr. Öhlinger said that the court will likely look at how the irregularities in the postal voting would have influenced the outcome of the election. He said “as soon as it approaches 30,000, the election would probably be repeated.” He said that he had “revised his opinion” over the matter given the new evidence.

The near victory of Norbert Hofer in the Austrian election sent shockwaves through the political establishment of Europe.  The European Union (EU) reacted to the news by vowing to never allow right-wing parties into power, saying that they would do everything possible in order to make sure that no populist candidates would ever govern EU member states.