Austria elected Alexander Van der Bellen of the Green party as its next head of state, rejecting his far-right challenger in a close election that polarized the country and stoked fears of a populist revival across Europe.
Final results put Van der Bellen, a former Green leader who ran as an independent, just ahead of Norbert Hofer of the Freedom Party with 50.3 percent to 49.7 percent. Hofer was favored to win after he dominated the first round, but Van der Bellen managed to rally centrist voters behind him and prevail. The initial count for Sunday’s poll put the two candidates neck and neck, forcing a delay until more than 700,000 postal ballots could be counted.
Turnout was high at 73 percent, with 4.6 million votes cast.
The result spares Austria what many here consider the ignominy of electing a president from the controversial Freedom Party, one of Europe’s oldest far-right movements.
Van der Bellen, speaking Monday evening, stressed the importance for Austrians to “get along” after the most divisive political campaign in recent memory. Acknowledging his duty to serve all citizens as president, traditionally a moral authority with little political power, Van der Bellen said he would suspend his membership in the Greens, where he was a senior figure for years.
“I want to serve this country and all of its citizens,” he said, standing on podium with the Austrian and European flags draped behind him.