Hofer blasts Farage over defeat
Ukip’s Nigel Farage has never won a seat in the UK parliament. Source: Flickr
Austria’s right-wing Freedom Party has blamed former Ukip leader Nigel Farage for its defeat in Sunday’s presidential election.
Anton Mahdalik, a party leader, criticised Farage for telling Fox News the Freedom Party would hold an EU referendum in Austria. “That didn’t help us, it hindered us,” Mahdalik said, adding that a majority of Austrians supported the EU.
Freedom Party presidential candidate Norbert Hofer criticised Farage ahead of voting, ruling out a referendum. “I would ask Mr Farage not to interfere in Austria’s internal affairs,” the populist said. “It is not something I want. We need to build a stronger union,” Hofer said.
Farage said on Friday that Hofer “will be calling for Austria to have a referendum on their membership with the European Union”, following Britain’s vote on June 23.
“I see 2016 as the year of a political revolution. Two revolutions, one in the UK, one in the USA”, Farage said. “It’s about nation-state democracy, taking back control of our lives and our future direction. The president of Austria being the head of state, not with much executive power but still very important, I would put my money on the Freedom Party’s Mr Hofer winning that election.”
But Hofer lost, posting on Facebook: “I am incredibly sad it didn’t work out. I would have loved to look after Austria. I congratulate Alexander Van der Bellen to his success and ask all Austrians to stick together. We are all Austrians, no matter what we decided today. Long live our home, Austria.”
Populist politics have unsettled Europe and the US, frequently by using fake news and exploiting fears of globalisation and migration. The rejection of constitutional changes in Italy on Sunday was complex but the choice before Austrians was perhaps the starkest.
The year-long campaign for the presidency between Hofer, whose Freedom Party was founded in the 1950s by former Nazis, against a 72-year-old former Green Party leader, Alexander Van der Bellen.
Van der Bellen’s victory by 6.6 percentage points with 99 per cent of votes counted left his supporters jubilant and a little surprised, after fearing a Donald Trump-style upset.
“It is unbelievable,” said diplomat Wolfgang Petritsch. “Austria saves the world!”
Europe still faces pivotal elections next year in France and Germany, which will define EU politics for many years. Hofer had said in November that the US election had bolstered support for his Freedom Party.
“People followed Trump with curiosity, shock, fear, jubilation, but I don’t think they drew any conclusions,” said Johannes Hübner, a Freedom Party parliamentarian. “It’s like a Hollywood movie.”
The calm Van der Bellen campaigned as an anti-Trump. He said Britain’s “tragic” vote to leave the European Union had made people think twice about Austria’s imitating any such move.