Austria’s highest court Friday annulled the results from the presidential election in May after it became clear “illegal and improper” handling of postal votes may have blocked a gun-toting, anti-immigration candidate from victory.
Freedom Party candidate Norbert Hofer looked set to become the first nationalist head of state in Europe since World War II, holding a 3.8 point lead at the end of election day. Independent Green Party affiliate Alexander Van der Bellen still managed to win by 30,863 votes after the absentee ballots arrived days later.
The miraculous comeback led Hofer’s supporters to believe the election was rigged as part of a nationwide effort to keep a nationalist away from the presidency. The Freedom Party filed a complaint weeks later, arguing that 94 out of 117 districts illegally handled votes in favor of Van der Bellen.
The court did not comment on whether or not the election fraud had any effect on the final results.
“The decision I am announcing today has no winner and no loser,” Gerhard Holzinger, head of the Constitutional Court, said Friday. “It has only one aim: to strengthen trust in the rule of law and democracy.”
Hofer surprisingly won the first round of voting by 17 points in April. Since he failed to reach a majority of the votes, another matchup with Van der Bellen took place a month later.
Hofer openly opposes Muslim immigration and is skeptical of the European Union.
“To those in Austria who go to war for the Islamic State or rape women – I say to those people: ‘This is not your home,’” Hofer said during his campaign.
Hofer also carried a Glock handgun on the campaign trail in an effort to get Austrians to protect themselves.
A new election is expected to take place in either September or October. The Austrian president has limited powers and it is mainly considered a ceremonial role.
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