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Projections Show President Re-elected on Promises of Stability Amid Energy Crises, Inflation

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Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen has been re-elected, projections showed Sunday, after campaigning on promises of stability as the Alpine country struggles with an energy crisis and inflation. The projections showed the 78-year-old incumbent swept 54.6 per cent of the votes with six other candidates — all men — lagging far behind.

The presidential post, which has a term of six years, is largely ceremonial. The final official result is not expected until Monday.

Campaigning on a slogan of “clarity” and “stability”, Van der Bellen had been widely tipped to clinch a second mandate.

“It would be nice if we had clarity today,” the economics professor said after casting his ballot in central Vienna earlier Sunday. “Nice for Austria, nice for us — if we can then fully concentrate on the diverse tasks ahead, the multitude of crises… that we in Austria, in Europe, are facing.”

Polls ahead of the election had suggested the pro-European liberal would secure more than 50 per cent of the vote, thus avoiding a run-off. Some 6.4 million people were eligible to cast their ballots from the European Union country’s total population of nine million.

‘Consistency’

“I am in favour of consistency,” 73-year-old retiree Monika Gregor told AFP outside a Vienna polling station earlier Sunday, saying she had voted for Van der Bellen and thought he was “very clever”.

Posters proclaim the former Greens leader to be “the safe choice in stormy times” as the ripple effects of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine push up inflation throughout Europe. Van der Bellen was running again as an independent, but he has the explicit or implicit backing of Austria’s major parties except the far-right Freedom Party (FPOe).

The latter has fielded its own candidate, Walter Rosenkranz who, according to the projections, got 18.9 per cent.

Also standing for the presidency was 35-year-old punk rocker Dominik Wlazny, founder of the Beer Party, named for its advocacy of the popular beverage. He came in fourth place with 8.1 per cent, according to the projections.

Alexander Nittmann, 35, a software developer, said he had voted for Wlazny, hoping he would bring “a breath of fresh air”.

Van der Bellen — who supporters affectionately call “the professor” — faced an unexpectedly tough fight in 2016, only winning the race in a run-off against an FPOe politician. But the FPOe’s ratings have plummeted since 2019, following a corruption scandal that brought down the government they were part of and led to the resignation of then-chancellor Sebastian Kurz in 2021.

Analyst Thomas Hofer said ahead of Sunday’s vote that it was “crucial” for Van der Bellen to avoid a run-off such as that of 2016, when the campaign was “very divisive and hostile”.

Trademark professorial manner

“Van der Bellen stands for integrity and stability, which is very appreciated by voters given the multitude of crises that many European countries are currently facing,” Julia Partheymueller, a political analyst at the University of Vienna, told AFP.

Van der Bellen will be Austria’s oldest head of state to be sworn in if he wins. Also known as “Sasha”, a nickname that nods to his Russian roots, he was born in Vienna during World War II to an aristocratic Russian father and an Estonian mother who fled Stalinism.

The arrival of the Red Army a year later forced the family to escape to the southern state of Tyrol, where Van der Bellen spent an “idyllic childhood”. He studied economics at the University of Innsbruck and finished his PhD in 1970 before going on to become dean of economics at the University of Vienna.

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