Presidential election in Austria: in search of stability, Austrians are ready to renew their green president

Backed by a broad spectrum of the political class, he is credited with more than 50% of the vote in opinion polls and appears well on his way to victory in the first round against six opponents, all men.

“The biggest competitor on Sunday will be the couch,” the 78-year-old head of state said on Friday at the end of the campaign in front of his supporters. “If liberal democracy is important to you, go vote,” he added.

The polling stations opened at 07:00 (05:00 GMT) and closes at 17.00, when votes are expected.

A fallen one on the far right

The far-right party FPÖ, which almost won over him in 2016, wants to play the game again.

But its candidate is little known: Walter Rosenkranz, 60, would collect only 15% of the vote, against the tide of 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 winning a presidential election.

Founded by former Nazis, the FPÖ finally lost with more than 46% of the vote, epilogue to a ballot with twists and turns that had kept Brussels and Austria’s western partners on edge.

If the party then entered the government by forming a coalition with the conservatives of young Sebastian Kurz, it had to leave power in 2019 after an incredible scandal and has never since recovered its former greatness.

“Stability”

Faced with this turmoil and the succession of chancellors, Alexander Van der Bellen, with the traditionally built-in function of ensuring protocol, guaranteed the continuity of the state.

He can thus present himself today as “the only one who can avoid chaos”, according to political scientist Thomas Hofer, interviewed by AFP.

This pro-European also looks after “integrity”, according to Julia Partheymüller of the University of Vienna, which is “highly valued” in comparison with the “many crises that many European countries are facing”.

He ran a sober campaign, without debate with his rivals, advocating “clarity” and “competence” to “cross the turbulence as calmly as possible”, referring to inflation, the war in Ukraine and the energy crisis.

The message appears to have been received by voters tired of the political upheavals of recent years.

“I will vote for him because he solved very well, calmly, the problems that arose for him” in the first term, for example, explains to AFP Alexandra Höfenstock, 38, employed in the city of Vienna. , which strives for “stability”. “.

In the Alpine country of 9 million inhabitants, 6.4 million voters – including the Austrian-American Arnold Schwarzenegger, a strong supporter of the president – ​​are called to vote for a six-year term.

sons of refugees

However, the outgoing president’s atypical profile by no means guaranteed him such a political fate.

The austere, a little rigid even, agnostic married twice in a Catholic country, the former head of the Greens and dean of the economics faculty in Vienna has been able to forget his strong anchoring on the left in order to bring people together.

Tongue-in-cheek, heavy smoker with a perpetual three-day beard, he is now happy to have himself photographed in the loden – a traditional alpine jacket – at the foot of the glaciers to convince of his patriotism.

Because an extremely rare ecologist 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 the Second World War before moving to Tyrol to escape the arrival of the Red Army.

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