Conservatives from the Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) have released statements telling their supporters not to back anti-mass migration Freedom Party (FPÖ) presidential candidate Norbert Hofer.
The establishment conservatives claim that Hofer would not be a “dependable” president and stoked fears of a possible Austrian exit from the European Union (EU) in a manifesto released by the party, reports Die Welt.
Former EU agriculture commissioner Franz Fischler and ex-vice chancellor Wilhelm Molterer (pictured above) were both signatories to the manifesto which endorses the far-left ex-Green party candidate Alexander Van der Bellen on the basis that he is far more pro-EU than Hofer. “We do not want to be confronted with speculation about the departure of Austria from the European Union (Öxit),” they wrote.
The message comes in response to Hofer who has said that should Turkey become a member of the political bloc then as president he would take the question of membership to the public via a referendum.
The establishment conservatives also mentioned “attempts to hide the cornflower behind a crucifix,” referring to the latest campaign posters from Hofer which say “God Help Me” in reference to his own Christian faith.
The blue cornflower is sometimes worn by Mr. Hofer and party leader Heinz-Christian Strache, the symbolism finding its origins with former German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck. The flower was also used by Nazis in Austria during the 1930s to identify each other, but Mr. Strache and Mr. Hofer affirm that they wear the flower because it is blue, the FPÖ’s colour, and assert it has a connection to the 1848 liberal revolutions.
The manifesto also claimed that Hofer had given “speeches about fear, hate, and the constant search for scapegoats,” likely referring to his stance on strengthening Austria’s borders to prevent a repeat of last year’s flood of Middle Eastern migrants – an event which the ÖVP and their Socialist party coalition partner presided over.
The Austrian presidential election has become the longest election in the history of Austria’s second republic. Initially, Mr. Hofer won the first round in April only to be defeated by less than a percentage point the following month after postal ballots were counted. The vote was annulled following an investigation that revealed serious postal fraud. The new election was set for October 2nd but was delayed until December 4th due to faulty postal ballot envelopes.
Despite the entire establishment vocally against him, Hofer has managed to hold a slim margin ahead of Van der Bellen in the polls. Much of his support has come from working class people and those in rural areas, many who formerly voted Socialist and now believe the Socialist party has all but given up on them.