Freedom in the World
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Austria has a democratic system of government that guarantees both political rights and civil liberties. It is frequently governed by a grand coalition of the center-left Social Democratic Party of Austria (SPÖ) and the center-right Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP). In recent years, the political system has faced pressure from the Free Party of Austria (FPÖ), a rightwing populist party that openly entertains nationalist and xenophobic sentiments.
- In December, Alexander Van der Bellen was elected president after a close and controversial election that featured a repeat of the run-off between Van der Bellen and FPÖ candidate Norbert Hofer.
- The government further limited access to asylum seekers, introducing a ceiling for the number of people that can apply for asylum in Austria in one year.
- Rightwing violence and race-based hate speech remained major concerns.
Political debate in 2016 was dominated by the presidential election and refugee policies, the latter issue being at the forefront of conversation since the spike in the flow of asylum seekers to Europe in 2015. Following a number of previous moves to counter migration flows to the country, the government further restricted access to asylum seekers and introduced an annual cap of 35,000 for asylum applications—a limit that will be in effect as of 2017. A number of legislators announced intentions to try to reduce this cap even further.
The Austrian presidential election was highly contested and divisive. Van der Bellen, the candidate of the Green Party, initially won the runoff against Hofer, the candidate of the FPÖ. The vote was later declared invalid, however, as the Constitutional Court established that there had been irregularities in the handling of postal ballots. A repeat of the runoff, held in December, confirmed the election of Van der Bellen.
This country report has been abridged for Freedom in the World 2017. For background information on political rights and civil liberties in Austria, see Freedom in the World 2016.