Austrian president bests rightist to win election
VIENNA – VIENNA (AP) — Austria's president easily secured a second term Sunday, deflecting a challenge by a far-right politician who had criticized the country's anti-Nazi law.
Incumbent Heinz Fischer, a Social Democrat, won 78.9 percent of the vote, trouncing his main rival, Barbara Rosenkranz of the anti-foreigner and anti-European Union Freedom Party, who netted 15.6 percent. Rudolf Gehring of the tiny Austrian Christian Party — the only other candidate in the running for the largely ceremonial post — trailed with 5.4 percent.
Turnout was a mere 49.2 percent.
"I am extremely happy and thank the Austrian population for having so much confidence in me," Fischer said in remarks broadcast live on public television.
Rosenkranz claimed she and her family had been victims of a "witch hunt."
"It really wasn't a fair election campaign — I think everyone saw that," Rosenkranz said as her supporters clapped and cheered.
The results, which do not include mail-in ballots, were announced by Interior Minister Maria Fekter.
Polls had predicted Fischer would win another six-year term and the vote was being watched as a measure of far-fight sentiment in a country at times still marred by its connection to the Holocaust.
Fischer, 71, is known for caution and diplomacy. He served as science minister and held various leadership positions in his party and in parliament before initially winning the presidency on April 25, 2004.
Rosenkranz, in contrast, caused controversy by suggesting that Austria's law banning the glorification of the Nazis was not in line with the constitution and hindered freedom of expression. But she recently declared formal support for the law.
She also came under fire recently for a vague response to a question about Nazi gas chambers, but has since clearly acknowledged their existence.
The 51-year-old mother of 10, whose husband used to be part of a far-right political party that was banned for being too radical, said her comments on the country's anti-Nazi law were misinterpreted by her critics and the media.
"Of course I condemn the monstrous atrocities — I've never done anything else," Rosenkranz told The AP in reference to the mass killings of Jews and others by the Nazis.
Ferdinand Karlhofer, head of the University of Innsbruck's political science department, said the results were a blow to the Freedom Party, which had hoped to position itself for key local elections in the Austrian capital this fall.
"The FPOe (Freedom Party) is coming out of this election with hefty minus points," Karlhofer said in a telephone interview. "They didn't get the momentum they had hoped for."
Freedom Party chief Heinz-Christian Strache, who wants to become the mayor of Vienna, initially predicted that Rosenkranz would win up to 35 percent of the vote but later distanced himself from her.