A conservative candidate for Austria’s presidency who opposes immigrants, Muslims and a proposed transatlantic free trade agreement may win Sunday’s election in a vote that could herald a lurch to the right across Europe.
If victorious, Norbert Hofer of the Freedom Party would be the first far-right head of state elected in a western European country since the end of World War II.
The 45-year-old former aeronautical engineer is considered the front-runner after upsetting candidates from the country’s two major parties, who finished fourth and fifth in the first-round election last month, by winning 35% of the vote. He is favored to defeat independent candidate Alexander Van der Bellen, who finished second with 21% of the vote.
Hofer’s stunning rise to the pinnacle of power reflects rapid changes in Austria, a nation of 8.7 million people. The country has undergone a major shift to the right in the last year by first welcoming more than 90,000 refugees fleeing war and poverty to slamming its borders shut.