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Independent Defeats Populist in Austrian Presidential Election


Presidential candidate Alexander Van der Bellen celebrates his victory in Sunday's presidential election with supporters in Austria's capital Vienna, Dec. 4, 2016. Van der Bellen beat his far-right opponent Norbert Hofer by a seven percent margin. The sig

Presidential candidate Alexander Van der Bellen celebrates his victory in Sunday's presidential election with supporters in Austria's capital Vienna, Dec. 4, 2016. Van der Bellen beat his far-right opponent Norbert Hofer by a seven percent margin. The sig

Austria has elected Independent candidate Alexander Van der Bellen as president. The former Green Party leader defeated Freedom Party candidate Norbert Hofer.

Van der Bellen captured 53.3 percent of the vote, compared to 46.7 percent for Hofer. The results do not include absentee ballots but officials say there are too few of those to change the outcome.

Van der Bellen supports Austrian membership in the European Union. He called his victory a “signal of hope and change” to “all the capitals of the European Union.”

Presidential candidate Alexander Van der Bellen celebrates his victory in Sunday's presidential election with supporters in Austria's capital Vienna, Dec. 4, 2016. Van der Bellen beat his far-right opponent Norbert Hofer by a seven percent margin.

Presidential candidate Alexander Van der Bellen celebrates his victory in Sunday's presidential election with supporters in Austria's capital Vienna, Dec. 4, 2016. Van der Bellen beat his far-right opponent Norbert Hofer by a seven percent margin.

In contrast, Hofer spoke out against EU attempts to get too much control over individual states. He threatened to call a referendum on whether Austria should leave the EU. He also took a strong anti-immigration position during his campaign.

Experts partly link Hofer’s rise in popularity to immigration policies. Many people are concerned about the current migrant crisis in Europe. Tens of thousands of migrants have sought asylum in Austria in the past few years.

Many of Hofer’s followers are young men. They include members of Austria’s so-called Identity movement, which opposes multiculturalism. The movement is growing, adding groups in countries across Western Europe.

Angry demonstrators carrying a banner with obscene language march in protest against far-right presidential candidate Norbert Hofer in Vienna, Dec. 3, 2016. (L. Ramirez/VOA)

Angry demonstrators carrying a banner with obscene language march in protest against far-right presidential candidate Norbert Hofer in Vienna, Dec. 3, 2016. (L. Ramirez/VOA)

Hofer’s loss is seen as a setback to such populist movements in Europe.

Hofer told reporters that although he lost, he will keep up efforts to make sure the Austrians who voted for him are not ignored. “We are not done,” he told VOA. “I will fight for the next elections.”

Political experts say the election of Donald Trump in the United States heavily influenced politics in Austria and other EU nations. Trump campaigned on strong immigration enforcement and criticized European policies on migrants.

I’m Caty Weaver.

Bryan Lynn wrote this story for VOA Learning English, based on reports from Jamie Dettmer and Luis Ramirez of VOA News and the Associated Press. Caty Weaver was the editor.

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Words in This Story

referendumn. a direct vote in which people cast ballots to decide on a specific issue or policy

multiculturalism n. the belief that different cultures within a society should all be given the same importance

setback n. a problem that makes something happen later or more slowly than it should

populist adj. related to policies that supposedly represent the opinions of ordinary people

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