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Austrian presidential election must be re-run, court rules

Austria's presidential runoff election must be held again, the Constitutional Court ruled on Friday, handing the Freedom Party's narrowly defeated candidate another chance to become the first far-right head of state in the European Union.

The decision comes a week after Britain delighted anti-EU groups such as the Freedom Party (FPO) by voting to leave the bloc. Concerns about immigration and jobs featured prominently in the Brexit referendum, as they did in Austria's knife-edge election.

Norbert Hofer, presidential candidate of the right-wing populist Austrian Freedom Party (Freiheitliche Partei Oesterreichs, or FPOe), greets supporters at the FPOe election party following initial poll results during Austrian presidential elections on Ma
Jan Hetfleisch | Getty Images
Norbert Hofer, presidential candidate of the right-wing populist Austrian Freedom Party (Freiheitliche Partei Oesterreichs, or FPOe), greets supporters at the FPOe election party following initial poll results during Austrian presidential elections on Ma

The court said that widespread irregularities in the counting of the more than 700,000 postal ballots cast meant there was enough doubt over the election's outcome for a re-run to be ordered.

Norbert Hofer of the anti-immigration FPO lost the May 22 vote to former Greens leader Alexander Van der Bellen by less than one percentage point, or around 31,000 votes.

Whether a re-run of the vote for the largely ceremonial post of president will have a different outcome this time is unclear. The Brexit vote could buoy populist sentiment or have a chilling effect on it.

The court said it was using its strict standard on the application of election rules. Those rules were broken in a way that might have influenced the result, but there was no proof that the count had been manipulated, it said in its ruling.

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