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08 June 2016

Pro-White Freedom Party in Austria Challenges Results of Presidential Vote

VIENNA — The far-right Freedom Party of Austria filed a legal challenge on Wednesday over the results of the country’s presidential election, disputing the outcome of the May 22 runoff, in which the party’s candidate, Norbert Hofer, was narrowly defeated.

Austrian officials said there was no precedent for a challenge to the outcome of a presidential election in the history of modern Austria, a federal republic that was reconstituted in 1945 from the ashes of Nazi Germany, which annexed the country in 1938.

The challenge, submitted by the party’s chairman to the country’s Constitutional Court, injected an element of uncertainty into a debate that has already stirred questions over the strength of the far right in a nation with a fraught wartime past. Mr. Hofer led the first round of voting, on April 24, in which the country’s two mainstream parties were handed a humbling defeat.

The runoff pitted Mr. Hofer against an independent candidate and former leader of the Greens, Alexander Van der Bellen.

The results were too close to call when polls closed at 5 p.m. on May 22; only after nearly 700,000 mail-in ballots were tallied was the result announced, in the midafternoon on May 23. Mr. Van der Bellen was declared the winner, with 50.35 percent of the vote and a very tight lead of 30,863 ballots, according to the Austrian Interior Ministry.

On Wednesday, the Freedom Party’s chairman, Heinz-Christian Strache, submitted 150 pages of documents to the Constitutional Court, claiming “numerous irregularities and failures” in the counting of the runoff votes. According to the Austrian news agency APA, Mr. Strache submitted three documents: one from himself, a second from Mr. Hofer, and a third from “voters and citizens.”

Mr. Strache claimed electoral irregularities or fraud in 94 of 117 regional polling stations. In 82 of the stations, he said, at least 573,000 mail-in ballots were sorted or counted before election authorities were even on site to monitor the process.

“We are not sore losers, and we are not disputing for dispute’s sake,” Mr. Strache said at a news conference. “The mistrust is justified. Without these failures and irregularities, Norbert Hofer could have been president.”

The Freedom Party had already claimed election irregularities — including premature counting of mail-in ballots and erroneous tallies — but Mr. Strache went further on Wednesday, calling the mail-in ballot system a “systemic failure.”

Have You Voted for a Far-Right Party in Europe? We Want to Hear From You
The New York Times is collecting the personal experiences of voters who have supported far-right parties in Europe recently. Have you voted, or do you plan to vote for, any of the parties below? What experiences motivated your choice? A selection of reader responses may be used in an upcoming piece.

According to the APA, the Interior Ministry has called for an investigation into counting at six polling stations.

The Constitutional Court could call for a recount or even a re-election. According to Austrian law, the challenge must be resolved “within four weeks of submission.” That would be July 6 — two days before Mr. Van der Bellen’s scheduled date of inauguration, July 8.

The president of Austria is elected for a six-year term and serves as head of state, though the job is largely ceremonial. The incumbent, Heinz Fischer, is completing his second term and was not allowed to seek a third.

In 1986, Kurt Waldheim, a former foreign minister and secretary general of the United Nations, was elected president of Austria, despite revelations that he had concealed his wartime involvement with German military units that executed thousands of Yugoslav partisans and civilians and deported thousands of Greek Jews to death camps between 1942 and 1944.

A commission of historians found no evidence that Mr. Waldheim was guilty of war crimes, but concluded that he must have been aware of the atrocities and, by doing nothing, had facilitated them. Mr. Waldheim did not seek re-election in 1992; he died in 2007.