AUSTRIA. Vienna: Austrian president Alexander Van der Bellen successfully secured a clear majority win and guaranteed a six-year term in office on Sunday without facing risks of runoff, according to the projection of votes cast except postal ballots.
The 78-year former leader of the Greens has garnered broad popularity by projecting a sense of calm and collectedness during times of national crisis, including the collapse of the government in 2019 and the resignation of Chancellor Sebastian Kurz nearly a year ago over corruption allegations which he denies.
The far-right Freedom Party (FPO) was the only opponent who challenged Van der Bellen in the parliament.
But the latter won a much tighter race against the FPO opponent in 2016. Grandees from all other parties in parliament supported the president.
Although the Austrian president possesses a largely ceremonial role, he also has significant powers that help oversee periods of transition and turbulence.
The president is also the army’s commander-in-chief and has the authority to sack the whole government or the chancellor as per his discretion.
“A majority is easily said, but an absolute majority means more votes than all others (candidates) combined, and one must take that very seriously. I was not at all sure that it would happen, but it did, and I am very pleased,” Van der Bellen told national broadcaster ORF. He faced an all-male field of six opponents.
With 95% of the votes cast in polling stations counted, a projection by pollster SORA for ORF based on that count put Van der Bellen on 56.1% with a margin of error of 1.1 percentage points. His nearest rival was the FPO’s Walter Rosenkranz at 17.9%.
“Alexander Van der Bellen really managed to ensure in the first round that he will be the next president. I congratulate him on that,” Rosenkranz told ORF.
The votes counted on Sunday do not include postal ballots. However, they will be counted on Monday, but the projections are for the results as a collective entity, including the postal ballots. These projections have proved highly efficient in the past.
A separate projection by ARGE Wahlen for news agency APA produced nearly identical results to SORA’s, putting Van der Bellen on 56% and Rosenkranz on 17.6%, based on a count of 88% of votes cast in polling stations.
Van der Bellen has persistently described himself as a centrist liberal and supports green and socially liberal policies. He is supportive of the European Union and advocates European federalism.
During the presidential election, he appealed to the political centre and was backed by both the Socialist Democratic Party and the Conservative People’s Party. He is the first to be elected by the popular vote.