We were watching pretty closely last month as voters in Austria went to the polls and tossed out the established political power brokers. This left them with a choice in the runoff election between Freedom Party candidate Norbert Hofer (who wants stronger border controls) and a coalition of establishment types who were left supporting Socialist / Green Party hopeful Alexander Van der Bellen. In one of the closest elections the Austrians have seen in living memory, Hofer lost by the slimmest of margins to the Van der Bellen.

Or perhaps not. There were numerous complaints about the slow counting of write-in ballots and other irregularities, and now a court has basically tossed out the election results. (BBC News)

Austria’s highest court has annulled the result of the presidential election narrowly lost by the candidate of the far-right Freedom Party.

The party had challenged the result, saying that postal votes had been illegally and improperly handled.

The Freedom Party candidate, Norbert Hofer, lost the election to the former leader of the Greens, Alexander Van der Bellen, by just 30,863 votes or less than one percentage point.

The election will now be re-run.

Yep. We’re basically going to do the whole thing over again. The European media is already wetting itself over the implications because of Hofer’s stance on immigration and national sovereignty. (The fact that he carries a Glock on the campaign trail doesn’t make him any more popular with the press either.) The real question is whether or not the establishment parties will be able to use this turn of events to scare more supporters to the polls or if the Freedom Party will be further emboldened and garner more support. The Brexit news must certainly be a factor, and if the Brits can get away with a bit of nationalism and local control, why not the Austrians? They may be on the way to their own Independence Day.

The Austrian presidency is in some ways more of a ceremonial position, but it carries significant influence and consequences at the polls. Hofer is already hinting that if he wins, things will be changing. (Telegraph)

But the party is leading in the polls ahead of general elections due in 2018, and Mr Hofer has said he will use the full powers of the presidency if elected — including the right to dismiss the government and call elections.

Mr Hofer initially called on his supporters to accept the results of May’s election, but the FPÖ later made a U-turn and filed the complaint over voting irregularities which led to Friday’s ruling.

One last note of interest in terms of Austrian government structure will come to pass very shortly. The current president, Heinz Fischer, comes to the end of his term this Friday. By law he must step down at that time, but Van der Bellen can not be sworn in following this court decision. This means that Austria will be without a president until the do-over of the election is complete. In the meanwhile, the leadership role will pass to a “triumvirate” composed of the Speaker of the Parliament and two of his deputies.

We have indeed lived to see interesting times.

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