Far-right candidate Norbert Hofer from the Freedom Party of Austria (FPO) is set to clinch the first round of presidential elections Sunday with 36.7 percent support, Agence-France Presse reported. Preliminary projections put the two ruling parties — the Social Democrats (SPOe) and the People's Party (OeVP) — with too low support for a May 22 run-off, as Hofer will likely face off against independent candidates and smaller parties in second-round voting.
While the office of president in Austria is largely symbolic, the elections served as a kind of litmus test for the ruling coalition government ahead of general elections that are slated for 2018. Many countries throughout Europe — including France, Hungary and the U.K., to name a few — have seen increased support for right-wing euroskeptic parties amid an ongoing migration crisis in the European Union and the mounting threat of domestic terror.
"Like elsewhere in Europe, we are witnessing the downfall of the traditional parties," political analyst Peter Hajek told AFP, following the first announcement of results Sunday.
— AFP news agency (@AFP) April 24, 2016
More than 1 million people crossed into Europe illegally in 2015, with the vast majority of them looking to settle in northern European countries like Germany. Around 91 percent of arrivals to the EU in 2015 were bona fide refugees according to the U.N., which defines a refugee as a person fleeing violent persecution.
Austria had initially taken a similar open-door stance to migration policy as neighboring Germany, echoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel's call to embody a longstanding European tradition of granting asylum to refugees of political violence. Vienna quickly changed its policy, however, building border fences with Germany and Italy and slowing migration through its borders to a trickle.
Refugee policy became the dominant issue of the election, with Hofer promising to institute even stricter border control. The Freedom Party of Austria has existed in some form since 1956, and immigration policy became one of its dominant issues in the 1990s.
Marine Le Pen, leader of the National Front, a euroskeptic party in France, offered her congratulations to Hofer in a tweet posted to her verified account Sunday. “My sincere congratulations to our friends #FPÖ for this magnificent result. Congratulations to the Austrian people!” Le Pen wrote in her tweet.
— Marine Le Pen (@MLP_officiel) April 24, 2016