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Austria’s new president wants to heal national ’rifts’

Update: May, 24/2016 - 11:15
Austrian President-elect Alexander Van der Bellen (Central), who is supported by the Green Party, waves after delivering a statement following the Austrian presidential elections run-off, outside the Palais Schoenburg, in Vienna, Austria, on Monday. Austria’s Interior Minister Wolfgang Sobotka earlier announced the official result in which Van der Bellen had won the presidential elections run-off over the right-wing Austrian Freedom Party (FPOe) candidate Norbert Hofer by just a few thousands of votes. EPA/VNA Photo
Viet Nam News

VIENNA — Austria’s new President-elect Alexander Van der Bellen has said he would seek to unite the deeply divided nation, after he narrowly beat his far-right rival Norbert Hofer in a knife-edge runoff.

"A lot of people in this country evidently feel that they aren’t being seen or heard enough," he said on Monday in his first official speech in Vienna following the result announcement.

"We need a different culture of dialogue and a political system which deals with people’s fears and anger... I will also work toward winning the trust of Norbert Hofer’s voters." The Green-backed economics professor won 50.3 per cent of the vote in Sunday’s second-round, marginally ahead of 49.7 per cent for Hofer, presented as the friendly and moderate face of the anti-immigration, populist Freedom Party (FPOe).

With almost half of the votes cast, or 2.2 million people, going to Hofer, Van der Bellen now has to unite a polarised nation after a bruising election campaign.

"I want to be a nonpartisan president for all the people in Austria," he said.

"There’s been a lot of talk about this country’s rifts. But I think you can also interpret the split as a sign that we are two sides of the same coin and each side is as important as the other. Together we make up Austria," he added.

Van der Bellen will replace outgoing President Heinz Fischer of the Social Democrats (SPOe) on July 8.

Fischer, who took office in 2004 and was re-elected for a second term six years later, has enjoyed huge popularity during his long tenure.

"The biggest duty of the new president will be to bridge the divides," Fischer said.

Chancellor Christian Kern said Van der Bellen "represents a stance that is pro-European, open to the world and for a policy that puts opportunity in the forefront and which doesn’t stoke fears."

But "we must remember that the election result was achieved with a worryingly close lead, and therefore it is of particular importance to us that... no voter feels like they have lost," added Kern, himself a newcomer to the government.

He was sworn in earlier this month after fellow Social Democrat Werner Faymann quit over the historic first-round defeat in the presidential race of the long-powerful SPOe and their coalition partner, the centre-right People’s Party.— AFP




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