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Austrian far-right FPO challenges presidential election result

Former presidential candidate Hofer of the Austrian Freedom Party (FPOe) addresses a news conference in Vienna

Austria’s far-right Freedom Party (FPO) has challenged the result of last month’s presidential elections, the constitutional court said on Twitter on Wednesday.

Postal ballots pushed former Greens leader Alexander Van der Bellen past the FPO’s Norbert Hofer in a tight run-off vote in which the margin of victory was less than 1 percentage point or roughly 31,000 votes.

An FPO spokesman did not give details, but leader Heinz-Christian Strache is scheduled to hold a news conference at 0900 GMT.

“(The) challenge by Heinz-Christian Strache of the presidential run-off vote has arrived at the Constitutional Court,” the court’s spokesman said on Twitter, without elaborating. APA news agency said the FPO filed a 150-page document with the court.

While the post of president is largely ceremonial in Austria, Hofer would have been the first far-right head of state in the European Union. Governments across the continent breathed a sigh of relief at his defeat.

But the Freedom Party is now threatening to revive a contest that split the country almost exactly in two, with workers and rural areas largely backing Hofer and cities and the highly educated leaning towards Van der Bellen.

The Interior Ministry has said that the overwhelming majority of votes judged irregular in the election were labelled thus on a technicality – postal ballots being processed or counted before 9 am on the day after the election.

Up to 23,000 votes were affected, with a further 2,000 ruled out due to more serious violations such as when a handful of teenagers not yet of voting age were allowed to cast ballots, the ministry said.

Once the challenge is officially filed, Austria’s Constitutional Court will decide whether to accept it. For that, it must find that the law was broken and that the breach might have affected the election’s outcome.

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