Europe

Austrian court considers far-right call for election re-run

Campaign posters for Norbert Hofer and Alexander Van der Bellen Image copyright AP
Image caption Alexander Van der Bellen (R) will be sworn in on 8 July if the FPOe's challenge fails

Austria's constitutional court has begun four days of hearings to decide whether last month's presidential run-off vote should be rerun because of far-right claims of electoral fraud.

Far-right candidate Norbert Hofer lost by just over 30,000 votes to Green candidate Alexander Van der Bellen.

Mr Hofer's Freedom Party says thousands of postal votes were opened too early or by unauthorised people.

The court is expected to rule before the president is sworn in on 8 July.

The Freedom Party (FPOe) has submitted a 152-page dossier and some 90 witnesses are due to give evidence to the public hearing by the end of Thursday.

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Basing its judgement on records from Austria's 117 voting districts, the federal electoral commission said a rerun was unnecessary.

However, according to public broadcaster ORF, some election observers said under oath that there had been irregularities, even though they had signed off the results.

The FPOe said that ballot papers were counted prematurely in 84 constituencies and opened too early in 17 districts. As many as 573,000 were counted too early, the party's dossier alleges.

Last week University of Vienna constitutional expert Prof Theo Oehlinger highlighted two of the FPOe's complaints as "very serious".

He told Der Standard newspaper that initial results had begun circulating on the internet before the end of the voting, and that the FPOe had complained of postal votes being counted by the returning officer or even council workers, rather than by the electoral commission.

Mr Van der Bellen's margin of victory was just 30,863 votes, depriving the FPOe of a victory that would have been a decisive boost for far-right parties elsewhere in Europe.

"We are not sore losers," said far-right leader Heinz Christian Strache earlier this month. "This is about protecting the foundations of democracy."

Europe's migrant crisis was a major issue in the run-up to the poll.

About 90,000 people claimed asylum in Austria last year, equivalent to about 1% of the Austrian population, and the FPOe ran an anti-immigration campaign.

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