Norbert Hofer.jpg

Austria will have to repeat its presidential election because ballots and voting results were handled improperly, the Constitutional Court ruled Friday, in a historic decision that hands a second chance at the job to far-right candidate Norbert Hofer.

Hofer's Freedom Party uncovered the irregularities and demanded the rerun of the May run-off election, which Hofer narrowly lost to Green contender Alexander Van der Bellen by a margin of only 31,000 ballots.

"Even though we live in a stable democracy, thank God, the meticulous application of voting procedures guarantees the confidence of citizens in correct elections and democracy as a whole," said the court's president, Gerhart Holzinger.

The new run-off election between Van der Bellen and Hofer will likely take place in late September or early October, outgoing President Heinz Fischer said.

Van der Bellen accepted the verdict and confirmed that he would run again.

"Of course I stand for this run-off election, and I intend to win it a second time," he told reporters.

He said he was optimistic that the broad range of voters encompassing many political views and social groups that had supported him in May would once again rally to him and carry him to victory.

Van der Bellen's narrow win in May had been met with a collective sigh of relief among Europe's centrist parties across Europe, who were worried that a victory by Hofer would further boost anti-immigration and eurosceptic forces across the continent.

Those fears are only exacerbated now after an anti-Europe wave allowed the Leave campaign to win in Britain last week, meaning the country is set to exit the European Union in the coming years.

"I am happy that the Constitutional Court has come to an objective decision in this very, very difficult case," Hofer said.

When Fischer's term ends on July 8, the parliament's presidential committee will take over his job temporarily. Hofer is a deputy president of parliament and is, therefore, part of this committee.

"I will clearly separate between my parliamentary job and my election campaign," Hofer said.

The Freedom Party had alleged that ballots from citizens who had voted outside their home town or who had sent in postal votes had been handled incorrectly in many voting districts.

The court found that this was the case in 14 districts and affected some 78,000 absentee ballots, even though it stressed that it had received no evidence for election fraud.

"There is no need for proof of actual tampering," Holzinger said.

The court has the duty to order a rerun even if there was only the possibility for fraud, he explained.

However, the Freedom Party said after the verdict that the absence of proof for fraud did not mean that no fraud was committed.

"The ruling did not say that there was no manipulation," Freedom Party leader Heinz-Christian Strache insisted.

The court also ruled illegal the Interior Ministry's long-standing practice of sending embargoed local ballot results to media and polling institutes before all polling stations have closed.

This was the second reason why the election would have to be repeated, Holzinger said.

For the new election, the Interior Ministry plans to improve legal training for the volunteers who make up the election commissions, and will also stop issuing preliminary results, Interior Minister Wolfgang Sobotka said.

In addition, Austria will request election monitors of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe to oversee voting in the districts where irregularities occurred, he announced.

Latest news

Residents in northern Greece oppose refugee children attending school

There were renewed clashes between angry residents and police in the northern Greek town of Oreokastro on Monday, where some locals have for months opposed children from a nearby refugee centre being taught at the local school.

Germany, France slam Russia's acceptance of Ukrainian rebel passports

EU member states Germany and France, which have been seeking to mitigate the conflict between the Ukrainian military and Russian-backed rebels in eastern Ukraine, on Monday broadly condemned Russia's recognition of rebel-issued passports.

Stier says Croatia strongly supports Kosovo, calls for enhancing economic cooperation

The Croatian minister announced a closer economic cooperation with Kosovo.

Afghanistan demands Pakistan hand over militants, shut training camps

The Afghan government has demanded that Pakistan hand over terrorists operating on its soil and close tens of terrorist training camps, the Foreign Ministry in Kabul said Monday.

Four Russian servicemen in Syria killed in vehicle bombing

Four Russian servicemen were killed and two others injured when a remote-controlled bomb exploded under their vehicle in Syria's western Homs region, Russian state media reported Monday, citing the Defence Ministry.

Iraqi forces advance in Mosul as US Defence Secretary visits Baghdad

Iraqi forces pressed on with their offensive to dislodge the extremist Islamic State militia from their stronghold in northern Iraq, as US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis landed in Baghdad on an unannounced official visit.

Denmark registers sharp drop in asylum bids in 2016

Denmark saw asylum bids in 2016 drop by two-thirds compared to the previous year, the Scandinavian country's statistics agency said Monday.

Zagreb businessman goes on retrial for causing accident at sea

Zagreb businessman Tomislav Horvatincic (70) on Monday went on retrial for causing an accident at sea five and a half years ago in which an Italian couple were killed.

French, Croatian students working together on Dalmatian islands project

A HRK 16 million Horizon 2020 agriculture project on which French and Croatian students will work together was launched at the Split School of Economics on Monday.

Croatian National Tourist Board director requests to be relieved of duty

The director of the Croatian National Tourist Board (HTZ), Ratomir Ivicic, on Monday requested to be relieved of his duties and a call for applications for this post will be published in a month.

Petrokemija posts HRK 87.3m loss in 2016

The Petrokemija artificial fertiliser manufacturer made HRK 1.93 billion in revenues in 2016, expenditures were HRK 2.02 billion and the loss was HRK 87.3 million, down 5.6% on the year, the Kutina-based plant said on Monday.

Wigemark says election legislation amendments of utmost importance for Bosnia

Wigemark said that amending the election legislation and continuing the process for joining the EU were the most important political processes in Bosnia and Herzegovina.