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Austrian election set for early December after 'gluegate'

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Austrian election set for early December after 'gluegate'
Austrian parliament building. Photo: Wikimedia
14:58 CEST+02:00
Austria's parliament has approved December 4th as the new date for the presidential election re-run in a scandal-ridden race that could usher in the European Union's first far-right head of state.

Initially scheduled for October 2nd, the government was forced to postpone the vote after it emerged that the glue on postal vote envelopes was not sticky enough, meaning the ballots could be tampered with.

Dubbed "gluegate", this was the latest twist in an embarrassing saga, which erupted in July when the highest court annulled the election result from May after upholding the narrowly defeated far right's claims of procedural irregularities.

The decision has given 45-year-old Norbert Hofer of the popular
anti-immigration Freedom Party (FPÖ) another stab at winning the election, which he lost in May by just 31,000 votes to independent ecologist Alexander Van der Bellen, 72.

If he emerges victorious this time, Hofer would become Europe's first far-right head of state since 1945. Latest polls show the rivals neck-and-neck.

The electoral chaos has left Austria without a president since July 8th when Heinz Fischer stepped down.

Wednesday's bill passed with the necessary two-thirds majority, but the FPÖ voted against, demanding that postal voting -- used by 17 percent of voters in May -- be abolished.

The bill also foresees an update of the voter register to include 49,000 newly eligible Austrians, most of them having turned 16, while 45,000 names will be removed because they have died since the last ballot.

Earlier this week, parliament announced that the future president will not be sworn in until January 26th, to give authorities sufficient time to
investigate any potential new irregularities.

The role of Austria's president is largely ceremonial but not entirely. He or she can in theory sack the government -- something that Hofer has in the past threatened he will do.

Like other populist parties around Europe, the FPÖ is currently leading national polls after stoking public fears about record immigration and rising unemployment.

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