The Austrian President, Heinz Fischer, formerly of the Social Democratic Party of Austria (SPÖ) and now an independent, has trounced two far-Right candidates to win a second six-year term. In the election on April 25, Mr. Fischer won 78.9 per cent of the vote, while Barbara Rosenkranz of the Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ) took 15.6 per cent and Rudolf Gehring of the newly formed Christian Party got 5.4 per cent. The Green Party helped Mr. Fischer by withdrawing in his favour, after grilling him for his views on various issues. The 49.2 per cent turnout was far below the 70 per cent figure in the 2004 presidential election, and the proportion of spoilt papers was unusually high at 7.3 per cent. The low turnout may be partly explained by the Austrian People's Party (ÖVP) candidate Erwin Pröll's decision not to contest, but to endorse the incumbent instead, which left many ÖVP supporters stranded. Secondly, the Austrian presidency is largely ceremonial. Thirdly, an election tends to be keenly fought when an incumbent has used the two terms allowed and new faces appear. During the run-up to this election, the Right was also damaged by chaos over nominations.
The campaign saw right-wing candidates vie with each other to stretch the boundaries of political extremism. Ms Rosenkranz, who has lobbied for changes to Austria's anti-Nazi legislation, went on record doubting the existence of gas chambers in Nazi concentration camps. Declaring that as President she would be “a horror show,” the editor of the influential daily, Österreich, withdrew the paper's support. The FPÖ campaign was hostile to Islam, to immigration, to women's rights, and to the European Union. As for Mr. Gehring, he opposes feminism and gay rights and favours salaries to make housewives stay at home and thereby prevent the “brain damage” he claims young children suffer in kindergartens. He is even accused of saying the government would soon implant chips into Austrians' brains. The Freedom Party's failure to win 25 per cent of the vote is a substantial blow to its prospects in regional elections scheduled for the autumn. That is significant in view of the Right's strong showing in the 2008 general elections, which may have prompted observers from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe to monitor an Austrian election for the first time since World War II. The presidency may not command any real powers but the Austrian people have sent a clear and welcome message as to what they do not want.