Taking hope from Donald Trump’s US election triumph, Austria’s far-right presidential candidate Norbert Hofer is eager to surf a tide of anti-establishment populism sweeping the West and win this Sunday’s re-run election.
For supporters of his independent rival, Alexander Van der Bellen, that is a worrying thought indeed.
Handing out leaflets in support of Van der Bellen on Vienna’s main shopping street, a young woman who gave her name as Berfin explained why she was volunteering for the left-leaning, former Green Party leader.
“There is a really simple reason for it. I fear for my future. Because I watched the US elections. I often think about what would happen if Norbert Hofer were to become president in Austria,” she said.
Potential voter Georg Delon, also in the Austrian capital, believes Hofer can benefit from ‘the Trump effect’.
“Van der Bellen is not welcome in America. He is not welcome in Russia. He thinks he is the best man to be welcomed abroad as Austrian president but he isn’t,” he said.
Britain’s vote in June to quit the European Union unleashed a populist tsunami that could transform Europe’s political landscape.
For political analyst Thomas Hofer, however, the trend can be looked at two ways.
“I think there could be a certain influence – but not as most people might expect it – which is that it helps only Norbert Hofer. The Van der Bellen camp can use it, too, because it is fuelling fears and increasing emotions and mobilisation towards a defence stance against Hofer. It is like saying that a situation such as in the US and Britain – given the Brexit vote – must be prevented from happening in Austria.”
Opinion polls put the pair neck and neck, giving the anti-immigration Freedom Party’s candidate Hofer a real chance of becoming the first far-right head of state in an EU country. Van der Bellen narrowly won the original election in May but that result was annulled due to counting irregularities.