ANALYSIS: Austrian Presidential Election Reveals a Split Nation

People walk between election posters of Alexander Van der Bellen, candidate for presidential elections and former head of the Austrian Greens, right, and Norbert Hofer, candidate for presidential elections of Austria's right-wing Freedom Party, FPOE, left, in Vienna, Austria, Monday, May 23, 2016. The Eurosceptic, anti-immigration right-winger Norbert Hofer, and his left-leaning rival are neck and neck in Austria's presidential election a day after polls closed, and officials are now counting absentee ballots to determine who will win. (AP Photo/Ronald Zak) (AP Photo/Ronald Zak)
People walk between election posters of candidates Alexander Van der Bellen (R), and Norbert Hofer in Vienna, Austria. (AP Photo/Ronald Zak)

A Euroskeptic, anti-immigration politician and his left-leaning rival were both that close to the win, with the final result coming down to less than one percent of the Austrian vote, as officials had to count absentee ballots to determine the final victor.

Final numbers gave right-winger Norbert Hofer 50.3 percent while Alexander Van der Bellen, a Greens politician running as an independent, got to 49.7 percent.

Hofer’s Freedom Party has exploited anti-EU sentiment and fear that Austria could be overrun by refugees to become the country’s most popular political force. Van der Bellen is generally supported by pro-European Union Austrians favoring humane immigration policies.

Despite Van der Bellen’s win, Sunday’s vote has revealed a profound split over which direction the nation should now take, particularly over migration and the EU’s future. Even though Hofer lost, his strong showing reflects the growth of support for anti-establishment parties across the continent to the detriment of the political middle.

Slovak Foreign Minister Miroslav Lajcak, a Social Democrat, described it as “a continuation of a trend.”

“People are dissatisfied with the traditional, standard political parties,” he said on arrival to an EU foreign ministers’ meeting in Brussels. “I really believe it’s time for us to reflect upon it because we must be doing something wrong.”

Mirroring the depth of Austrian dissatisfaction with the status quo, candidates of the Social Democrats and the centrist People’s Party, which form the government coalition, were eliminated in last month’s first round of voting.

Those parties have dominated Austrian politics since the end of World War II and winners of all previous presidential elections since then have been backed by either of the two.

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