Former Green Leader Achieves Narrow Victory in Austria's Presidential ElectionEU | May 24, 2016, Tuesday // 10:19| views
A file picture dated 22 May 2016 shows presidential candidate Alexander Van der Bellen, supported by the Green Party, addresses the media at the Palais Auersperg after the Austrian presidential elections run-off in Vienna, Austria, 22 May 2016. Photo: EPA
The former leader of the Austrian Green Party, Alexander Van der Bellen, won the presidential elections held in Austria on Sunday.
In a contested runoff, Van der Bellen managed to achieve a narrow victory over the far-right candidate of the Freedom Party, Norbert Hofer.
Running on an Eurosceptic and anti-immigration platform, Hofer managed to win the first round, in which the candidates of the two main parties were ousted.
A total of 4.64 million Austrians cast their ballot in the run-off, which was won by Van der Bellen with a difference of just 31 000 votes.
Thus the left-leaning pro-EU liberal became the first environmental activist to win Austria's presidential elections.
Van der Bellen was elected to parliament for the Greens in 1994 and served as chairman of the party's parliamentary club and federal spokesperson from 1997 to 2008.
In the elections, he ran as an independent candidate backed by his former party.
Upon his victory, Van der Bellen pledged to listen to the people's “fear and anger” and admitted that there was deep rift in the Austrian society.
He vowed to attempt to win the confidence of the people who had voted for his opponent and to be non-partisan president of all Austrians.
In a TV debate, Van der Bellen had said that he would not accept the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) agreement between the EU and the USA.
Mainstream European politicians were relieved to learn of his victory after there had been serious chances of Hofer becoming the first far-right head of state in the EU.
The Austrian president has largely ceremonial functions, but the holder has the right to dissolve the lower house of parliament and call elections without the permission of the ruling party.
The residents of the main cities, the more educated people and the majority of women voted for Van der Bellen, while the rural areas, the manual workers and the majority of men supported Hofer.