Norbert Hofer, the candidate for Austria’s Freedom Party, won the country’s first round presidential election on Sunday. The victory came after the populist and libertarian party focused on the immigration crisis sweeping Europe.

Hofer won 36.4 percent of the vote. It is projected he will face Alexander Van der Bellen of the Green Party in a run-off ballot next month.

The victory represents a major defeat for the political establishment in Austria. The country has been ruled by the Social Democrats and the Austrian People’s Party since the end of the Second World War.

Similar political parties are gaining support across Europe. France’s National Front, the Dutch Freedom party, Italy’s Northern League, the Sweden Democrats, Britain’s UK Independence party and other populist and nationalist parties are poised to topple dominant political parties across the continent.

The Austrian presidency is largely a ceremonial post. However, the president appoints the country’s chancellor based on parliamentary election results and has a say in the selection of cabinet ministers. If elected, Hofer will also sign treaties, act as the commander-in-chief of the military, and appoint government ministers.

Immigration became a dominant political issue in Austria during the 1980s. The  recent arrival in Europe of hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants from the Middle East and Africa and the permissive immigration policies of European governments and the EU have reduced political support for the establishment.

Austria’s Freedom Party has argued since the 1990s that “Austria is not a country of immigration” and has insisted that “the protection of cultural identity and social peace in Austria requires a stop to immigration.”

The party has also opposed the influence of radical Islam in the country. Around 700,000 migrants passed through Austria last year, most headed to Germany and Sweden to take advantage of liberal social policies and refugee handouts.

The establishment media has portrayed the Freedom Party of Austria as far right. The Financial Times characterized Jörg Haider, the former governor of Carinthia and a long-time leader of the party, as an admirer of Hitler.


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