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Austria’s Highest Court Orders New Presidential Election

Austria’s Highest Court Orders New Presidential Election
Austria's Highest Court Orders New Presidential Election
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Austria will have its second presidential election this year in September or October.

That is because the country’s highest court overturned the results of the presidential election in May. The court pointed to problems in the counting of ballots sent in the mail.

In the May election, former Green Party leader Alexander Van der Bellen defeated Norbert Hofer, leader of the Freedom Party.

Hofer lost by about 31,000 votes -- or less than one percentage point. The Austrian Constitutional Court ruled that more than two times that number of votes were subject to questionable counting.

The court’s ruling halted plans for Van der Bellen to be sworn-in as president on July 8. It also gives Hofer another chance to win the election.

Hofer has campaigned openly against immigration. He reportedly carried a gun during campaign appearances.

Public support for anti-immigrant parties has been rising in some European countries in recent months. The Austrian court’s ruling raises concerns in the European Union, one week after a British vote to leave the EU.

Hofer has called for an Austrian vote on the country’s EU membership “within a year” unless the organization makes major reforms.

Van der Bellen strongly supports keeping Austria in the European Union.

The office of president is mostly a ceremonial position. The head of government is the chancellor, a position now held by Christian Kern of the Socialist Democratic Party.

But the president has the power to dismiss the chancellor and call for new elections. Hofer has said he would use that power and others to push his agenda for stopping immigration and blocking free trade agreements.

In its ruling, the Constitutional Court said some mail ballots were counted earlier than permitted under the law. It also said some ballots were counted by individuals without power to do so.

The court’s president, Gerhard Holzinger, said the judges found no evidence of cheating. “The decision…doesn’t make anyone a loser or a winner,” he said. “It should only serve one purpose – to strengthen trust in our legal system and therefore our democracy.”

I’m Bruce Alpert.

Esha Sarai and Isabela Cocoli reported this story for Bruce Alpert adapted their reports for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in This Story

inaugurate v. to introduce a newly elected official into a job or position with a formal ceremony

agendan. a list of things to be considered or done

cautiousadj. careful about avoiding danger or risk