Austria president sworn in, denounces populist ideas

VIENNA: Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen took office on Thursday denouncing populist ideas like those of the far-right candidate he defeated, but a spat within the ruling coalition threatened to play into the hands of his rival’s party.
In a close re-run vote, Van der Bellen, a former Greens party leader, prevented Norbert Hofer of the anti-immigration Freedom Party (FPO) becoming the first freely elected, far-right head of state in Europe since World War Two. But polls suggest the FPO would win the next general election.
In an inaugural speech to parliament after he was sworn in to the largely ceremonial post, Van der Bellen said he would work for all Austrians but rejected core tenets of the populist wave that has swept Britain and other Western democracies.
“I see the biggest danger as letting ourselves be ensnared by easy answers, and thereby tipping into nationalism… That cannot be in Austria’s interest as a small country,” he said. Austria’s president is traditionally a father-of-the-nation figure who only occasionally intervenes in public. But he also exerts influence on the government and political parties behind the scenes. The post had been vacant for six months because a re-run of the vote was ordered over irregularities in the count.
Van der Bellen’s arrival could help ease tensions between Austria’s two centrist coalition parties, which are seeking to agree on a list of new priorities that would keep their alliance alive and counter perceptions their government is ineffective. — Reuters