Austria’s president hopes for re-election without a second round

Austria’s liberal president hopes to be re-elected on Sunday without the need for a run-off after a campaign in which he has positioned himself as a stable choice in uncertain times.

President Alexander Van der Bellen, 78, is seeking a second term after a first six years in which a series of domestic political crises have given the head of state unusually high visibility in a role that is often largely ceremonial.

Almost 6.4 million people in the Alpine country are eligible to vote in Sunday’s election.

Polls have shown a wide lead for Van der Bellen, who has the tacit or explicit support of Austria’s ruling parties. The key question is whether he will win outright in the first round or whether he will need a runoff against the runner-up on November 6.

Of the parties in parliament, only the far-right Freedom Party fielded a candidate against him — Walter Rosenkranz, a lawyer who is the former leader of his caucus.

In 2016, Van der Bellen beat a more prominent Freedom Party candidate, Norbert Hofer, by 53.8% to 46.2% in a runoff that was repeated on the order of Austria’s Constitutional Court.

Hofer’s party had alleged widespread electoral irregularities in the original runoff months earlier that Van der Bellen won by a whisker. The vote was closely watched in a year that saw the Brexit vote in the United Kingdom and the election of Donald Trump in the United States.

There is no sign of such drama this time. Polls in recent weeks have consistently put Van der Bellen above the 50% threshold he needs to avoid a runoff.

“If things go well, I’ll get more votes than all six of my competitors put together,” he said this week. “If I don’t get my wish, then I win four weeks later. … I don’t want that. I want to win this Sunday.”

Other candidates include the left-wing satirist Dominik Wlazny of the Beer Party, known as Marco Pogo, as well as a handful of right-wing and conspiracy-minded candidates such as Michael Brunner of the anti-coronavirus party People Freedom Fundamental Rights and Gerald Grosz, former leader of the now-defunct far-right party Alliance for the Future of Austria.

The Freedom Party has capitalized on inflation and rising energy prices to make modest gains in recent months. But he was unable to mount the strong challenge that Hofer did.

Recent campaign posters for Van der Bellen, who is from the environmental Green party but is running as an independent, featured the slogan “The safe choice in stormy times”.

Austria has experienced political upheaval in recent years, going through five chancellors during Van der Bellen’s first term.

After conservative Chancellor Sebastian Kurz’s coalition government with the Freedom Party collapsed in 2019, the president appointed an interim cabinet of non-partisan experts under Brigitte Bierlein, then head of the Constitutional Court.

Austria’s top politicians were in and out of Van der Bellen’s Hofburg palace again last year after the resignation of Kurz, who had returned to a new government with the Greens. The country has had three chancellors in two months, with Kurz’s successor, Alexander Sullenberg, giving way within weeks to current chancellor Karl Nehammer.

Early election predictions will be available shortly after polls close at 5 p.m. (15:00 GMT) on Sunday, with the preliminary result expected on Sunday afternoon. Postal ballots will be counted on Monday.

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