Trump Looms Large in Austrian Presidential Debate

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Austrian presidential candidates Norbert Hofer and Alexander Van der Bellen squared off for a heated TV debate, both flinging accusations of extremist sympathies.

Anti-mass migration Freedom Party (FPÖ) presidential candidate Norbert Hofer sparred with the left wing former Green party leader Alexander Van der Bellen on Austrian broadcaster OE24 Thursday night. Both candidates accused each other of extremist sympathies and agreed on very little, though both agreed the victory of U.S. president elect may not have a huge influence on the result of the election reports Die Presse.

The debate, which lasted a mere half hour, saw a torrent of attacks launched by both candidates at their opponent. the moderator received questions from the audience, many of which related to the election of U.S. president-elect Donald Trump. Mr. Hofer said that he was never a cheerleader for Mr. Trump, but hoped that his new administration would look to better relations with Russia, while chastising Van der Bellen who had criticized Trump as a demagogue.

Van der Bellen countered, pointing out that the leader of the FPÖ Heinz-Christian Strache had called German Chancellor Angela Merkel the “most dangerous woman in Europe“, and arguing that his comments about Mr. Trump were no different.

On the subject of Russia, Mr. Hofer said that he would like to see sanctions lifted on Moscow because of the negative effect they have had on the Austrian economy.  But Van der Bellen said that only when Russia’s policy in Ukraine changes can Europe even consider looking at lifting the economic sanctions.

The debate become more tense after Mr. Hofer mentioned that the Austrian Communist Party (KPÖ) had supported and endorsed Van der Bellen’s candidacy and even counted him as one of their own. The charge was met angrily by Van der Bellen, who said the only time he’s been associated with the communists was in a municipal election decades in the past.

Van der Bellen hit back claiming that Hofer had the support of the hipster-right Identitarian youth movement who are well known in Austria for their many protests and instances of street theatre to highlight the problems of mass migration and Islamisation.

While the candidates disagreed vehemently on most of the issues they did manage to find some common ground. Both opposed the idea of Austria joining a European Union army, both were against the legalization of marijuana,  and both agreed that they would not contest the results of the election.

Challenges over the validity of the initial second round vote in May led to the annulment of the vote, which was pushed to October and then to December 4th after problems with the postal ballot envelopes. The polls remain close with Hofer enjoying a slight lead as many traditionally left wing working class voters have created a new voting bloc for him and the FPÖ.

 Follow Chris Tomlinson on Twitter at @TomlinsonCJ or email at


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