Mainstream relief as leftist candidate wins in Austria
George Jahn (Associated Press) - December 5, 2016 - 5:00am

VIENNA — Alexander Van der Bellen, a left-leaning politician who preached moderation and tolerance, won Austria's presidential election yesterday over right-wing populist Norbert Hofer, according to preliminary results that showed Van der Bellen convincingly ahead.

His accomplishment was greeted with congratulations by mainstream politicians in neighboring Germany. They and others in Europe had feared that Donald Trump's win in the United States and the Brexit vote in Britain heralded a resurgence of populist sentiment across the continent.

Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel, who heads Germany's center-left Social Democrats, told the Bild newspaper: "A load has been taken off the mind of all of Europe." He called the result "a clear victory for good sense against right-wing populism."

Partial results tallied shortly the polls closed yesterday showed Van der Bellen with 53.3 percent of the vote and Hofer at 46.7 percent. While the margin may change when final results are in, Austrian officials said the results gave Van der Bellen an unbeatable lead.

Noting the outsize attention the election in Austria was receiving, Van der Bellen declared that "what happens here today has relevance for all of Europe," as he cast his ballot.

Hofer conceded his loss in a Facebook posting.

Acknowledging that he was "endlessly sad" about his loss, Hofer added, "I would have been happy to take care of our Austria." He urged voters of both camps to bury their differences and work together for Austria

The Austrian president's functions are largely ceremonial and past elections have merited little attention outside the country because they were decided between mainstream candidates. This time the contest was watched across Europe because it was seen as an indicator of how well euroskeptic candidates will do elsewhere in the EU next year.

Van der Bellen is pro-European Union and represents liberal to left-of-center views while Hofer is from the euroskeptic anti-migrant Freedom Party. Hofer moderated his hard-line campaign message when trying to woo undecided voters disenchanted with the political establishment.

yesterday's election was a court-ordered rerun from a vote in May that Van der Bellen won by less than 1 percentage point, a decision that came Hofer's Freedom Party claimed widespread irregularities.

The results yesterday will not please other populist politicians in the EU who want their countries out of the bloc. Far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen of France and anti-immigrant politician Geert Wilders in the Netherlands, who both face national elections next year. tweeted their support yesterday for Hofer as voting was still going on. Later, after he lost, they, congratulated him on his strong showing.

Traditional political figures in neighboring Germany put aside their differences to welcome Van der Bellen's victory.

Manfred Weber, a conservative who heads the main center-right group in the European Parliament, wrote on Twitter: "Austrians send clear pro-European signal. The European right-wing populists' party is off for now."

Top German opposition Green leader Simone Peter called it "a good day for Austria and Europe. The right-wing rabble-rousers have to be stopped!

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