The Corner

Merkel’s Austria Effect

Having given the British his thoughts on how they should vote in their upcoming referendum, Barack Obama now tells Germans that Merkel’s “stance on refugees is on the “right side of history,” a condescending phrase from a condescending president, a phrase with, in the words of Robert Conquest, a “Marxist twang” about it.

Austrians don’t seem to share Obama’s enthusiasm. It’s the first round of voting in the country’s presidential elections today and, well, I’ll let the BBC explain (my emphasis added):

Austria’s far-right Freedom Party candidate has come top in the first round of presidential elections, projections show. Norbert Hofer has about 36% of the votes for the mostly ceremonial role – not enough to avoid a run-off in May.

Independent contenders Alexander Van der Bellen and Irmegard Griss are fighting for second place.

For the first time since World War Two, the candidates from Austria’s two main parties did not make it to the run-off.

Rudolf Hundstorfer from the Social Democrats and the People’s Party Andreas Khol are each thought to have taken about 11% of the vote.

Both parties have governed Austria for decades – either alone or in coalition.

This is a big shake-up in Austrian politics, the BBC’s Bethany Bell in Vienna reports, as the country has had a president from the centre-left or centre-right since 1945. The clear victory of the far-right candidate reflects widespread discontent with the status quo, as well as concerns about immigration and the economy, our correspondent says. Support for the Social Democrats and the People’s Party has been falling in recent years.

In the last general elections in 2013, the two parties won just enough votes govern in a “grand coalition”

Van der Bellen seems set to come second with around 21 percent. He’s a former spokesman for the Greens and favors a liberal immigration policy, paving the way for a plebiscite of sorts on this issue in a second round of balloting on May 22, when voters will have to decide between today’s top two.

Merkel has consequences. 

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