Austria, in search of stability, ready to reappoint its green president

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Austria, in search of stability, ready to reappoint its green president

Outgoing Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen.

Austrians are taking part in an election on Sunday that is expected to re-elect outgoing Green President Alexander Van der Bellen, seen as a symbol of stability in the face of inflation, the energy crisis and war in Ukraine.

Supported by a broad spectrum of the political class, he is credited with more than 50% of the votes in the polls and seems well on his way to winning in the first round of voting against six opponents, all of them men.

It would be good to see things clearly today, it would be good for Austria. This would allow us to focus fully […] on the myriad of crises we face in Europe, the 78-year-old head of state said after casting his vote in Vienna late morning.

In the Alpine country of 9 million people, 6.4 million voters — including Austrian-American Arnold Schwarzenegger, the president's stronghold — are being called at the polls.

Offices opened at 7 a.m. and will close at 5 p.m. The first screenings are expected soon after.

I am in favor of stability, Monika Gregor, a 73-year-old retiree, told AFP, calling the outgoing president a very intelligent man.

But others preferred to give their voice to candidates from civil society.

Alexander Nittmann, a 35-year-old computer developer, chose punk singer Dominik Wlazny, the same age as him and founder of the Beer Party. I think a little fresh air in politics does not hurt, he explained, deeming his campaign serious behind the humor.

Candidate Dominik Wlazny, musician and founder of the Beer Party.

As for the far-right FPÖ party, which almost won against Alexander Van der Bellen in 2016, it would like to play the match again. But its candidate is little known: Walter Rosenkranz, 60, would win only 15% of the vote, against the tide of recent elections in Sweden and Italy.

Corruption cases have caused Austria's notorious extreme right to lose ground. Six years ago, she was the first in Europe to come close to victory in a presidential election.

Founded by former Nazis, the FPÖ finally lost with more than 46% of the vote, after a ballot with twists and turns that kept Brussels and the Western partners of the ;Austria.

If the party had then acceded to the government by forming a coalition with the conservatives of the young Sebastian Kurz, it had to leave power in 2019 after an incredible scandal and did not never recovered from its past glory.

Faced with these turmoil and the succession of chancellors, Alexander Van der Bellen, with the traditionally embodied function of ensuring protocol, guaranteed the continuity of the state.

He can thus present himself today as the only one who can avoid chaos, according to political scientist Thomas Hofer, interviewed by AFP.

This pro-European also passes for integrity, according to Julia Partheymüller of the University of Vienna, which is highly appreciated in comparison with the multiple crises facing many European countries.

He led a sober campaign, advocating clarity and competence in order to get through the turbulence as calmly as possible.

Incumbent President Alexander Van der Bellen talks to a voter near a polling station in Vienna.

His atypical profile, however, in no way guaranteed him such a political destiny.

Austere, a little stiff even, an agnostic married twice in Catholic land, the former boss of the Greens and dean of the faculty of economics in Vienna knew how to forget its strong anchoring on the left to gather.

A deadpan, heavy smoker with an eternal three-day beard, he now enjoys being photographed in loden — a traditional alpine jacket — at the foot of the glaciers for convince voters of his patriotism.

A rare ecologist at the head of a democracy, he is also the son of refugees: his Protestant family emigrated from the Netherlands to Russia in the 18th century. His father, an aristocrat, and his Estonian mother joined Vienna during World War II before moving to Tyrol, fleeing the arrival of the Red Army.

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