Relief after Van der Bellen's win in Austria?

Alexander Van der Bellen has been elected as Austria's new president. The former Green Party leader won 51.7 percent of the vote, defeating Norbert Hofer, the candidate of the right-wing FPÖ. The Austrians have countered the populist trend but the right has emerged from the election stronger than ever, commentators warn.

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Český rozhlas (CZ) /

Hofer's defeat will only spur on the right

Despite Van der Bellen's victory the threat of right-wing populism has not been banished, warns public radio broadcaster Český rozhlas:

“It is entirely possible that Van der Bellen's election will actually strengthen the FPÖ in the parliamentary elections in 2018. The party has gained a great deal of support in particular on the issue of migration. People are aware that the situation is less than ideal and demand reactions. … The ruling Social Democrats and the conservatives must learn from the presidential election. This won't be easy because they have spent dozens of years - apart from a few short interruptions - ruling together. The voters are increasingly unhappy with this division of power. If the Social Democratic Party and the Austrian People's Party get another chance to rule together they will certainly use it. If the elections go badly for them they will seek salvation in a coalition with the FPÖ.”

Der Standard (AT) /

FPÖ stronger than ever

FPÖ candidate Norbert Hofer won't be president but his party has emerged strengthened from the elections, Der Standard concurs:

“Hofer himself warned on election night that the sleeping bear inside him had been awakened. The Freedom Party has now managed to set up a second key figure alongside party leader Heinz-Christian Strache who is a viable candidate in elections. The speculation about a power struggle between the two is just wishful thinking on the part of the media. A more likely scenario is an FPÖ fronted by a self-confident duo.”

Kurier (AT) /

Austrians not taken in by populists

After the Brexit vote and the election of Donald Trump Austria has decided to counter the triumphal advance of the populists, Kurier explains:

“It is interesting that Austria has decoupled itself from the populist trend in many other countries. Brexit has shown that it is bad for a country when politicians promise a wonderful future and then shortly afterwards are forced to admit that they used false numbers and arguments. And the first decisions made by Donald Trump since his election show that he doesn't care at all about his voters and is only thinking about his super-rich buddies. Moreover, people are looking for stability, and neither Brexit nor Trump will provide it. But Van der Bellen has signalled that he can. So populism isn't dead yet but it is losing its magical pull.”

Pravda (SK) /

Staying true to principles pays off

The Austrians have put their country's reputation and concern about being isolated in the EU above their dissatisfaction with the political situation, Pravda observes and sees three specific reasons for Van der Bellen's success:

“With Van der Bellen a political movement has won that seemed hopeless. But Van der Bellen didn't budge even an inch from his principles even though this firmness wasn't without risks. He pursued a different concept of the 'home country' to that of nationalists all over Europe. … The winner also made it clear that this election was not just about who would be president, but about the future of the country within Europe. … Thirdly, Norbert Hofer wasn't able to keep the friendly wolf-in-sheep's-clothing face with which he had managed to persuade people that he wasn't a dangerous radical but an acceptable patriot in place until he had crossed the finish line.”

taz, die tageszeitung (DE) /

No cause for elation

Van der Bellen owes his victory in Austria's presidential elections to a surprisingly strong civil movement, taz comments:

“Those involved managed to motivate just about everyone from the Christian democratic centre to the left to go out to vote on Sunday, including everyone in their immediate circle of family and friends. That ultimately tipped the balance. This is certainly cause for relief, but any feeling of elation is out of place. Because a large number of voters still cast their ballots for a man - and his party - that have immersed the country in a wave of lies, hatred and contempt, and put the journalists in the pillory. The people were not won over by the politics of permanent discord. But let us not forget: the far right Freedom Party won a share of the vote that it could only have dreamed of in the past.”

Sydsvenskan (SE) /

Liberal democracy must be defended

The election of Alexander van der Bellen as Austrian President does not yet mean the populist trend has been reversed, Sydsvenskan warns:

“If Front National leader Marine Le Pen becomes president one of the most important and biggest EU member states could join forces with the right-wing populists in Eastern Europe, weaken the EU and move closer to Putin. … The echo of the marching troops of the last century may trigger panic. But we can learn one important lesson from history: changes can come quickly and our achievements and liberal democracy cannot be taken for granted. EU countries must raise their voices against member states that don't respect human rights. Populism and nationalism must be opposed with credible policies based on the social welfare state and on a vision of the future with an open and democratic society.”