Whatever happened, Austria was going to make history this week.
In the country’s closest-ever national election, a former Green Party leader on Monday was declared the winner of Sunday’s run-off vote for Austrian president, defeating a resurgent far-right candidate by just 30,000 votes.
The nail-biting result spares this central European Alpine nation of 8 million the distinction of becoming the first western European nation in the post-war period to elect a far-right leader as head of state.
The result is nevertheless historic: Alexander Van der Bellen will become the first-ever Green Party-backed candidate elected to the largely ceremonial post of Austrian president. He will also become the only Green head of state in Europe.
A 72-year-old economics professor who led the Green Party for more than 10 years, Mr. Van der Bellen ran as an independent in this month’s presidential election, though he was supported by his erstwhile party.
That shade of independence may help Mr. Van der Bellen with the tough task of uniting a sharply divided country over the coming months and years. The former Green party leader announced during a victory speech Monday night that he was immediately giving up his party affiliation.
“I will represent Austria globally and also look for common ground at home. I will be an above-party president, for all the people of this country,” said Mr. Van der Bellen, who will formally begin his six-year term as president on July 8.
Amid a wave of right-wing resurgence in Europe, Austria’s election was looked upon globally as a bellwether for whether the far-right, which has grown in the wake of Europe’s refugee crisis, can come to power in a Western nation.
Norbert Hofer, candidate of the Freedom Party, the FPÖ, had profited in recent months from public anger over the arrival of hundreds of thousands of refugees at Austria’s borders, as well as deep frustrations with Austria’s two centrist parties that have governed the country for most of its post-war history.