VIENNA (AP) -- Austria's highest court ruled Friday that presidential elections narrowly lost by a right-wing candidate must be repeated after his party claimed gross irregularities in the absentee vote count.
The ruling, announced by Constitutional Court chief judge Gerhart Holzinger, marks the first time that a nationwide vote will have been rerun in post-war Austrian history. It also represents a victory for the Freedom Party, which challenged the May 22 runoff after its candidate narrowly lost to a left-leaning independent candidate
Norbert Hofer was leading after polls closed. But final results after a count of absentee ballots put former Green party politician Alexander Van der Bellen ahead by only a little more than 30,000 votes. The final count showed Van der Bellen with 50.3 percent, compared with 49.7 percent for Hofer.
The Freedom Party asserted that the law had been contravened in one way or another in most of the 117 electoral districts, including the sorting of absentee ballots before electoral commission officials arrived and related violations of the rules.
The rerun is expected to be held in September or October.
With Britain's pending departure from the European Union overshadowing the vote, it will in some ways be a renewed reflection of Austrian, and European, EU sentiment. A Hofer win, however narrow, would boost not only the Freedom Party but kindred movements in France, the Netherlands and elsewhere lobbying for less EU power, or outright exits from the European Union for their countries.