Austrian presidential campaign echoes Donald Trump, U.S. election

VIENNA -- Norbert Hofer of Austria’s right-wing Freedom Party, narrowly lost the country’s presidential election last May to Alexander Van der Bellen, a more mainstream, pro-Europe candidate. But a court nullified the results after reports of irregularities, and a new election has been set for Sunday.

Founded by a former Nazi officer, the Freedom Party campaigned hard on an anti-immigrant platform. That hasn’t changed, but what has is the U.S. election.

“The Trump factor is here,” said political commentator Thomas Hofer.

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Presidential candidates Norbert Hofer of the Freedom Party (FPOe) and Alexander Van der Bellen (L) who is supported by the Greens party, shake hands before a TV debate after the Austrian presidential election in Vienna, Austria, May 22, 2016.

REUTERS

He said Donald Trump’s win has emboldened Austria’s right wing.

“You see huge parallels; the wall on the southern border is well and alive here in Austria as an issue, anti-immigrant message, anti-establishment message,” he said.

There are overlapping tactics too, including fake news. False stories have spread online that claim Van der Bellen has cancer.

“It’s about undermining, not only undermining the message of the other side, but also spreading news, fake news,” Thomas Hofer said.

In May, CBS News correspondent Seth Doane went on the campaign trail with Freedom Party boss Wolfgang Jung, and got a taste of his anti-Auslim rhetoric.

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Wolfgang Jung

CBS News

“I don’t want a mosque here,” Jung said at the time.

Now, Jung is saying that momentum is on their side.

“After Trump’s surprise win your candidate said, ‘Hey, we can do this too,’” Doane said.

“Yes, and I hope so!” Jung replied.

This election is not just about Austria. The far right in France is watching, as is Germany, the country that has taken in the most refugees. Chancellor Angela Merkel is facing a growing threat from an ultra-nationalist, anti-immigrant party.