Alexander Van der Bellen (L) has beaten Norbet Hofer (R)
Alexander Van der Bellen (L) has beaten Norbet Hofer (R) Reuters

Despite losing the general election ballot on Sunday for the Austrian presidency, Alexander Van der Bellen narrowly defeated Norbert Hofer on Monday, after absentee ballots put the former Green Party leader over the top.

Freedom Party of Austria (FPO) candidate Norbert Hofer had led Van der Bellen after Sunday’s vote 51.9% to 48.1%, and appeared poised to win the second round of voting, after dominating the preliminary vote in April.

But mail-in ballots, which accounted for some 14% of the vote, favored Van der Bellen, erasing Hofer’s lead and propelling the 72-year old former economics professor to a narrow victory.

Hofer, a 45-year old former aeronautical engineer, placed heavy emphasis during his campaign on his party’s opposition to mass immigration and continued membership in the European Union.

The Freedom Party leader sports a 9mm pistol at all times, a fact that he claims is a “natural consequence” of his opposition to unrestrained immigration.

If elected, Hofer had pledged to use his power as president to veto a planned trans-Atlantic trade agreement – the TTIP – and to press for an Austrian exit from the European Union. While the Austrian presidency is largely symbolic, Hofer has stated that he intends to make full use of the position to pursue his agenda.

Opponents slammed Hofer’s rhetoric, claiming that his blanket statements on asylum seekers were provocative.

“Those people who respect and love Austria and have found a new home here are warmly welcome," said Hofer in one campaign speech. "But those, it has to be said, those who do not value our country, who fight for Islamic State, or who rape women, I say to these people: this is not your homeland. You cannot stay in Austria.”

Van der Bellen ran as independent, though he received the backing of the Green Party.

The new president-elect has promised to steer Austria away from nationalism, and to promote a more inclusive, socially-just society.