Populist politics play out in Austria’s presidential election

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ALISON STEWART, PBS NEWSHOUR WEEKEND ANCHOR: In Europe, anti- establishment, populist political parties are on the rise not only in Italy, as we discussed earlier in the broadcast, but also in France, England, Germany and Austria.

Austrians vote in their presidential election tomorrow, which is a do-over of the election held in May that was nullified over voting irregularities. The left-leaning independent candidate, Alexander Van der Bellen, is running against Norbert Hofer of the right wing Freedom Party, who opposes benefits for migrants and is critical of the European Union.

Francois Murphy is the bureau chief for “Reuters” in Vienna, and he joins me now to discuss this election.

Francois, in every article about the Austrian election, you also read a sentence about Brexit, the U.K. exit from Europe, and about the election of the Donald Trump as president of the United States.

Is there a sense that Austria will follow in this line of rejecting establishment parties and people and go anti-establishment?

FRANCOIS MURPHY, REUTERS: Well, you could also argue that it’s actually Britain and America that were following Austria since, as you mentioned, this is a re-run of an election that was first held in May. And in May, the far-right candidate Norbert Hofer came very, very close to winning.

So, in a way, it’s very hard to say which way this wave is headed in.

ALISON STEWART: Where are the lines divided in the country? Who’s voting for whom?

FRANCOIS MURPHY: There is actually a very similar picture to what we have since seen in Britain and in the United States. Data from the original rerun in May shows that you had blue-collar workers largely voting for Norbert Hofer, the far-right candidate, was the highly educated, for example, were largely backing Alexander Van der Bellen, the former leader of the Green Party.

ALISON STEWART: Francois, is there anti-E.U. sentiment involved in the Austrian election?

FRANCOIS MURPHY: I’m not sure it’s fair to say that this is driven by anti-E.U. sentiment. In fact, the far-right candidate, Norbert Hofer, said Austria could hold their own vote on leaving the European Union within a year and that hasn’t gone down too well in Austria, where most people, according to opinion polls, feel that the country should stay within the E.U.

STEWART: If Norbert Hofer should win, what could he do? What changes could he make?

FRANCOIS MURPHY: So, in Austria, the president traditionally plays a largely ceremonial role. The pretty powers, however, are quite broadly defined, and it’s possible to interpret those in a larger way.

And that’s what Norbert Hofer has said he intends to do. He has said that he would dismiss a government that behaved in a certain way. He’s given a couple of examples, at least. One is if the government were to raise taxes. Another is if a government allowed another influx of migrants like the one we saw here just over a year ago where, at the time, there were no I.D. checks for example of people coming through and he says that if something like that were to happen again, he would dismiss the government.

ALISON STEWART: Francois Murphy of “Reuters” — thanks for joining us from Vienna.


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