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Austrian election re-run comes unstuck in postal ballot setback

Austria on Monday delayed a re-run of a knife-edge presidential election as faulty seals on postal ballots scuppered its second attempt to organise a ballot that could give western Europe its first far-right head of state in decades.

The country's constitutional court scrapped the result of the first election in May due to irregularities in counting postal ballots.

Candidates for the Austrian presidential elections Norbert Hofer (left) and Alexander Van der Bellen shake hands during the Airshow 'Airpower 16' in Zeltweg, Austria.

Interior Minister Wolfgang Sobotka said the re-run, scheduled for Oct. 2, had also been postponed.

"The reason is a defective envelope," he said, suggesting a return to ballot forms used in previous elections after some postal voters complained the glue on their papers was not working properly.

Asked at a news conference if the double setback might damage Austria's reputation, Sobotka said: "The laugh is always on the loser."

The postponement refocuses attention on an election that had already set alarm bells ringing among Austria's European Union peers.

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In May, Norbert Hofer of the anti-migrant Freedom Party (FPO) came within 31,000 votes of a far-right victory that would have resonated widely on a continent where mass migration driven by war and poverty threatens to polarise political debate.

The FPO then successfully challenged the narrow victory of Alexander Van der Bellen, an independent and former Green Party leader, citing procedural irregularities, forcing the re-run.

Recent opinion polls put Hofer ahead of Van der Bellen.

Sobotka said the re-run might now take place on either Nov. 27 or Dec 4, adding he was open to extending the vote to citizens who had reached the voting age of 16 since the spring.

That would require parliamentary approval, while postponing the re-run will require a change to Austria's electoral law.