Tight Austrian Election |Reveals a Split Nation

     VIENNA (AP) — A Euroskeptic, anti-immigration politician and his left-leaning rival were neck and neck Monday a day after polls closed in Austria’s presidential election, and officials were counting absentee ballots to determine the victor.
     Direct votes Sunday gave right-winger Norbert Hofer 51.9 percent while Alexander Van der Bellen, a Greens politician running as an independent, got to 48.1 percent. But final projections that include still-to-be-counted absentee ballots put each at 50 percent with Van der Bellen narrowly ahead.
     About 700,000 absentee ballots — close to a sixth of total votes cast — are slated to be counted by Monday evening for a final tally.
     Hofer’s Freedom Party has exploited anti-EU sentiment and fear that Austria could be overrun by refugees to become the country’s most popular political force. Van der Bellen is generally supported by pro-European Union Austrians favoring humane immigration policies.
     Whoever wins, Sunday’s voting has revealed a profound split over which direction the nation should now take, particularly over migration and the EU’s future. And even if Hofer loses, his strong showing reflects the growth of support for anti-establishment parties across the continent to the detriment of the political middle.
     Slovak Foreign Minister Miroslav Lajcak, a Social Democrat, described it as “a continuation of a trend.”
     “People are dissatisfied with the traditional, standard political parties,” he said on arrival to an EU foreign ministers’ meeting in Brussels. “I really believe it’s time for us to reflect upon it because we must be doing something wrong.”
     Mirroring the depth of Austrian dissatisfaction with the status quo, candidates of the Social Democrats and the centrist People’s Party, which form the government coalition, were eliminated in last month’s first round of voting.
     Those parties have dominated Austrian politics since the end of World War II and winners of all previouspresidential elections since then have been backed by either of the two.
     Associated Press writer Lorne Cook contributed to this report from Brussels.
     Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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