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Austria's Top Court Throws Out Presidential Election Result, Orders A Do-Over

Norbert Hofer of Austria's Freedom Party (left) and Alexander Van der Bellen, candidate of the Austrian Greens, wait for the start of a TV debate last May in Vienna.

Austria's highest court has overturned the results of the country's presidential election and ordered a re-do, citing vote-counting irregularities.

In the May runoff election, left-leaning, Green Party-backed candidate Alexander Van der Bellen defeated his far-right, anti-immigration rival Norbert Hofer by fewer than 31,000 votes. As we reported, his margin of victory was just 0.6 percent.

This is the "first time anything like this has happened in Austria's postwar history," as NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson tells our Newscast unit. She adds that Van der Bellen was supposed to be sworn in next Friday.

Now, Hofer has another chance at victory. If elected, he would be "the first far-right head of state in the European Union," as Reuters reports.

The Constitutional Court ruled Friday on an appeal by Hofer's Freedom Party against the election's outcome.

"The court says postal votes were opened prematurely and in some cases their counting was unsupervised," Kerry Skyring reported for NPR from Vienna. "It says there is no evidence of vote manipulation, but because the potential for it existed, the result should be annulled."

As the BBC reports, the Freedom Party "also claimed to have evidence that some under-16s and foreigners had been allowed to vote."

Hofer's strong showing in the May runoff was seen as an indication of the rising power of far-right, ultra-nationalist parties in Europe.

Van der Bellen is a staunch EU supporter. As the BBC reports, he has "spoken of his dream for a border-free 'United States of Europe.' "

It remains to be seen how the U.K.'s decision to leave the EU will impact Austria's new vote, which is expected this fall. As Reuters reports, "The referendum could buoy populist sentiment or have a chilling effect on it."

Until Austria holds a new election, as Soraya reports, "The presidency will be run by three parliamentary leaders, one of them being Hofer."

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