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Left-Leaning Candidate Wins Austria's Presidential Election — Barely

Alexander Van der Bellen, who was backed by the Green Party, celebrates during an election party Sunday in Vienna.
Alexander Van der Bellen, who was backed by the Green Party, celebrates during an election party Sunday in Vienna.

A left-leaning, Green Party-backed candidate has won Austria's presidential election, edging out an anti-immigrant populist by just 0.6 percent of the vote.

Alexander Van der Bellen, a retired economics professor, had 50.3 percent of the vote, according to The Associated Press. His rival, Norbert Hofer of the far-right Freedom Party, had 49.7 percent.

A mere 31,000 votes — out of more than 4.6 million — separated the two candidates.

Joanna Kakissis, reporting for NPR from Vienna, described der Bellen as a 72-year-old, chain-smoking economist.

The man he defeated, 45-year-old Hofer, is a polarizing figure, as Joanna explains:

"Hofer, who trained as an airplane mechanic, talked tough on migrants — especially Muslims. His party's anti-migrant message struck a chord with Austrians.

"Many are concerned that this small country of fewer than 9 million cannot support the 90,000 asylum-seekers who arrived last year.

"Had Hofer won, he would have been the first elected head of state from a far-right party in the European Union."

Even though Hofer lost, the narrow margin was, for many, a sign of the popularity of far-right movements in Europe.

Hofer looked ahead in a Facebook post thanking his supporters.

He said their work during the campaign was "not lost but an investment in the future," according to a translation by The Associated Press.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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