Austria forced to announce postponement of presidential election

News Hour:

Austria’s government was forced Monday to announce an embarrassing postponement of its October 2 presidential election because of glue failing to stick on postal votes.

“The defective vote envelopes have glue on the top edge and on the side. This come unstuck and the flap can still be easily opened and closed even after 20-25 minutes,” Interior Minister Wolfgang Sobotka said, reports BSS.

“We are going to request that parliament approves a postponement of the election,” he told reporters. Possible new dates are November 27 — his preferred option — or December 4, he said.

Campaign posters for Norbert Hofer and Alexander Van der Bellen in Vienna

Campaign posters for Norbert Hofer and Alexander Van der Bellen in Vienna

The announcement is a further blow to Austria’s image, a wealthy and advanced Western democracy and EU member, and for the government of Chancellor Christian Kern.

Austria has been without a president since July 8 when Heinz Fischer stepped down. He was replaced on an interim basis by the speaker of parliament and two deputy speakers.

The last election result from May was annulled after Austria’s highest court in July upheld claims of procedural irregularities made by the narrowly defeated far-right.

This was also because of problems with the 700,000 postal votes cast, although these included votes being counted too early, or by officials without the authority to do so.

ISLAM HAS NO PLACE

In the May election, Norbert Hofer of the far-right Freedom Party (FPOe) narrowly lost by just 31,000 votes to an independent ecologist, Alexander Van der Bellen.

If he wins, this time, Hofer would become Europe’s first far-right head of state since 1945 after losing by just 31,000 votes in May.

In common with other populist parties around Europe, the FPOe has stoked concerns about record entry into Europe last year of more than a million migrants to increase support.

The role of Austria’s president is largely ceremonial but not entirely. He or she can in theory sack the government — something that Hofer has in the past threatened he will do.

The 45-year-old has sought to portray himself as the friendly and moderate face of the FPOe, focusing not on immigration but on issues like EU trade deals and wanting more Swiss-style “direct democracy”.

But he has also said Islam “has no place” in Austria and opposes gay marriage. Van der Bellen has also accused him of wanting Austria to follow Britain out of the European Union.

SYSTEM ON THE BLINK

Pushing the election back poses legal problems, however, and the government is considering drawing up special legislation or even changing the constitution to allow it to happen.

Another question is whether to update the voter register as, since the last election, tens of thousands of voters have died, while a similar number have turned 16 and can now vote, media reports said.

Expert Thomas Hofer said that it was unclear which candidate the “highly embarrassing” postponement would help, but that further ahead the far-right could well profit.

“Trust in democratic institutions was already low, and this will do further damage,” he told AFP.

“In the longer term, this will help the FPOe, which has always argued that the system is on the blink.”

Indeed, Hofer has jumped on the problems with the election as proof that Austria needs to be shaken up.

“We just want our country back,” Hofer said in a Facebook video.

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