Norbert Hofer
Norbert Hofer Reuters

Austria’s head of government, Chancellor Werner Faymann, resigned suddenly on Monday, deepening the country’s political chaos following last month’s defeat of both major parties in a presidential vote.

Two weeks ago the far-right Freedom Party of Austria (FPO) stunned observers when it won the first round of voting in Austria’s presidential election. Carrying 35.1% of the vote, FPO candidate Norbert Hofer easily beat the country’s two largest parties, the Social Democratic Party and Austrian People’s Party.

Hofer and runner-up Alexander Van der Bellen (Greens) will participate in a run-off vote on May 22nd. Polls indicate a tight race, but Hofer is generally favored to win the election.

The likely victory of a strongly nationalistic, populist party had prompted calls to replace Chancellor Faymann, whose handling of the ongoing migrant refugee crisis has hit his Social Democratic Party hard, leaving the party’s nominee for president a distant fourth in last month’s vote.

The Austrian presidency is a largely ceremonial position, with the president serving as head of state but not head of government.

But a Hofer victory, coupled with the ongoing chaos within the Social Democratic Party, could lead to snap elections. Polls indicate that the FPO, currently Austria’s third largest faction, would dominate new elections.

While the party won less than 21% of the vote in 2013, the latest Gallup/Osterreich poll shows the FPO winning a plurality of 34%, 12% ahead of the Austrian People’s Party and 13% ahead of the Social Democrats.

In 2000 the FPO drew international attention over then-party chairman Jorg Haider’s praise of the Nazi SS.

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