Voters give far right a drubbing in Austria presidential election
The Austria presidential election was a landslide victory for incumbent Heinz Fischer and saw the far right poll worse than expected, sending a message that its appeal is dimming, analysts say.
Austrian voters sent a clear message Sunday to the far right when they shunned Freedom Party candidate Barbara Rosenkranz and voted overwhelmingly for independent Heinz Fischer to serve a second term as president.
Mr. Fischer, formerly with the Social Democrats, garnered nearly 78 percent of the vote. Rosenkranz came in a distant second with 15.5 percent. Rudolf Gehring, leader of the newly formed Christian Party, received nearly 6 percent of the vote.
Rosenkranz is a member of the lower house of parliament. She became known on the campaign trail as "Reich Mother" for her strong anti-foreigner stance, while critics cast her as a Nazi sympathizer.
The question was not whether Fischer would win big, but how big. The goal of the Freedom Party was to capture 25 percent of the vote, which would have been consistent with national elections two years ago. But Rosenkranz was met with significant and vocal opposition by voters.
"The Freedom Party is coming out of this election with hefty minus points," said political analyst Ferdinand Karlhofer.
This presidential election was a litmus test for the far right. If they had gotten a quarter of the electorate to swing their way, they could have conceivably created momentum for regional elections in the fall.
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What about Vienna?
The leader of the Freedom Party, Hans Christian Strache, has his eye on the mayor's seat in Vienna, a city which is traditionally a liberal stronghold. A relatively healthy turnout for Rosenkranz would have boosted Mr. Strache's position. But even Strache stepped away from Rosenkranz in the end, when her alleged Nazi sympathies became a thorny problem for the Freedom Party.
"Grandma Rosenkranz would have presented a horror show as president of Austria,” said Wolfgang Fellner, editor of Oesterreich, the Austrian daily which dropped its support for her candidacy.
A nearly 100,000-strong online anti-Rosenkranz movement, coupled with throngs of hecklers on the trail, appeared to unnerve the far-right candidate, weakening her rhetoric against immigration, Islam, women's rights, and the European Union.
Rosenkranz is a mother of 10 children. She is married to Horst Rosenkranz, a former member of a neo-Nazi organization that was forced to disband under Austrian law. He is now a fund-raiser for jailed neo-Nazis and a publisher of a far-right magazine.
She has lobbied to change the country's anti-Nazi law, claiming the law punishes young people too harshly for what she calls "teenage folly."