The remaining two candidates were in a dead heat in second-round voting of Austrian presidential elections Sunday, local news sources reported. The runoff voting saw a matchup between far right-wing Freedom Party of Austria candidate Norbert Hofer and Green Party independent Alexander Van der Bellen.
Van der Bellen and Hofer were neck-and-neck with 50 percent of the vote each, according to local news sources. The runoff followed first-round voting in April that returned a surprising victory for Hofer, who won 36.7 percent of the vote, Agence France-Presse reported.
While the office of president is largely ceremonial in Austria, it can often serve as a litmus test of popular sentiment. This second round of voting is the first time since World War II that no candidate from the two ruling parties won enough support in the first round to make it through to the runoff. If Hofer wins, it will also be the first time a far right-wing candidate wins a presidential race in Europe in several decades.
Hofer's Freedom Party of Austria has existed since 1956, and it has seen growing support as an ongoing refugee crisis in Europe continues to unfold, and far right-wing parties throughout Europe see a spike in popularity. More than 1 million people sought asylum in Europe in 2015, the vast majority of them fleeing escalating violent conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa. Nearly half of all asylum-seekers in Europe in 2015 were Syrian, where a five-year civil war has killed several hundred thousand people and displaced millions more.
The Freedom Party of Austria focused its campaign on the 90,000 people who sought asylum in Austria in 2015, mounting an anti-immigrant platform in the runup to the presidential race. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker warned Austrian citizens against voting for Hofer, saying he hoped Van der Bellen would win.
"I say to them very politely but firmly: We don't take orders from Brussels or Berlin," Hofer said at a rally, Reuters reported.