BERLIN (AP) — Austria’s far-right Freedom Party has chosen former lawmaker Walter Rosenkranz as its candidate to challenge liberal incumbent Alexander Van der Bellen in the country’s presidential election in October.
The party said its leadership nominated Rosenkranz, 59, unanimously on Tuesday evening. In 2016, Freedom Party candidate Norbert Hofer lost to Van der Bellen in a runoff vote — which had to be rerun on the orders of Austria’s Constitutional Court after the party claimed widespread voting irregularities in Hofer’s initial narrow defeat.
Van der Bellen, 78, announced in May that he will seek reelection. He’s expected to have broad mainstream support in the Oct. 9 vote, with a runoff to be held on Nov. 6 if no candidate secures an outright majority. Three other candidates, none of them representing a party in parliament, have already come forward.
Rosenkranz was an unexpected choice to challenge for the presidency. He was a lawmaker from 2008 to 2019 and headed his party’s branch in Lower Austria province for several years.
The head of state is largely ceremonial but plays a prominent role in times of domestic political crisis. Repeated bouts of domestic political turmoil during Van der Bellen’s six-year term have given him high visibility.
After conservative Chancellor Sebastian Kurz’s governing coalition with the Freedom Party collapsed in scandal in 2019, the president appointed an interim Cabinet of nonpartisan experts under Brigitte Bierlein, then the head of the Constitutional Court.
Kurz, who had returned in a new government with the Greens, resigned last fall. The country had three chancellors in two months, with Kurz’s successor, Alexander Schallenberg, giving way within weeks to current Chancellor Karl Nehammer.