A repeat presidential election in Austria after court ruling

02.07.2016945
Wolfgang Holzinger (centre) reads the court ruling. Credits: screenshot of a video footage

Gerhart Holzinger (centre) reads the court ruling. Credits: screenshot of a video footage

1 Jul. — Austria’s Constitutional Court ruled that the second round of the presidential elections held in May must be annulled. The court thereby satisfied the demands of the Freedom party (FPÖ), which was claiming there had been numerous violations. However, this was done not because voting manipulation was detected, but rather since the necessary conditions were not observed.

The second round of the presidential elections was held on 22 May. Two candidates were running: Norbert Hofer of the far-right Freedom party and Alexander Van der Bellen of the Green party. The latter won by a very small margin (only about 31 thousand votes). However, in early June, having collected and compiled all the information about violations during the course of the elections, the Freedom party contested these results.

Two questions were set before the Constitutional Court for consideration: first, whether the election results were legitimate overall and, second, whether postal voting, the method which generated the most complaints, was constitutional. In addition, the decision had to be made prior to the official inauguration of the new president, planned for early July.

“Elections are the foundation of our democracy,” Court President Gerhart Holzinger began his speech. “And the primary task of the Constitutional Court is to ensure the work of this foundation. He went on to note that the decision makes no one a winner or a loser, as the main thing is the rule of law and democracy.

Moreover, the court did not try to find confirmation that there had in fact been any manipulation with these votes. The fact of the procedural violations in the ballot counts and the work of local electoral commissions was sufficient grounds for it. “If infringements of the law are of an extent that they may have had an influence on the election result, it is of no relevance if manipulations have actually occurred or not,” it says in the press release.

In addition, the Constitutional Court criticised the work of the Ministry of the Interior. The ministry has traditionally been responsible for the publication of election results, and it has now become clear that its longstanding practice of sending preliminary data to the media during election day is against the law. “The fact that this has been common practice for decades is of no relevance,” argued the court.

Both candidates reacted reservedly to the news and expressed their confidence in their abilities. Wolfgang Fellner, publisher of the paper Österreich, spoke out about the verdict most bitterly. “Welcome to the Congo! … We are a banana republic,” he said, outraged at the inability to properly count votes.

It is expected that the second round of the presidential elections will be held again, most likely, in late September of this year.

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