: SkyNews: Austria's presidential election on a knife-edge

09:06 May. 23, 2016

SkyNews: Austria's presidential election on a knife-edge

Norbert Hofer candidate for Austria's Presidency for Austria's Freedom Party, FPOE, waves during an after presidential election party in Vienna, Austria, Sunday, May 22, 2016. (AP photo)

Right-wing candidate Norbert Hofer is about to win the run

Postal ballots in Austria's presidential elections are set to determine whether Freedom Party candidate Norbert Hofer will become the European Union's first far-right head of state.

A projection by the SORA Institute for broadcaster ORF after the polls closed on Sunday put Mr Hofer and former Greens leader Alexander van der Bellen in a dead heat on 50% each.

The final result will hinge on the large number of postal votes - almost 900,000, a record 14% of Austria's 6.4 million eligible voters - which will be added to the totals today. Mr Hofer caught everyone by surprise when he scored 35% in the first round of voting. Support for Mr Hofer, a 45-year-old aviation engineer, has been buoyed by a migration crisis that has heightened fears about employment and security.

Around 90,000 asylum-seekers arrived in the country last year - the second-highest number in the EU on a per-capita basis. Mr Hofer could give the far-right real power in a western European country and confirm a trend of anti-establishment parties stamping on liberal traditions across the continent.

If Mr Hofer wins, he has threatened to dismiss the government coalition of Social Democrats and centrist People's Party if it fails to heed his repeated calls to do a better job.

With his party now outpolling the main groupings in popularity, he could be tempted to dismiss the power-sharing administration in order to give the Freedom Party the chance to win an ensuing election. But his rival, an economics professor, could also overturn the traditionally cosy relationship between Austrian presidents and governments.

Watch also Far-right Dutch leader Wilders on trial for hate speech

Running as an independent, Mr Van der Bellen, 72, has said he would not swear in a Freedom Party chancellor even if that party wins in the next elections, which have to take place within the next two years. That, too, could create political upheaval and uncertainty that has so far not been seen in post-war Austria.

The president traditionally plays a largely ceremonial role but swears in the chancellor, can dismiss the cabinet and is commander in chief of the military.

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