Vienna: Austria's anti-immigration far-right triumphed Sunday in the first round of a presidential poll, in a historic defeat for the traditionally powerful governing coalition parties two years before the next scheduled general election.
Norbert Hofer of the Freedom Party (FPOe) won 35 percent of the vote, projections showed, while candidates from the two centrist government parties failing to even make it into a second-round runoff on May 22, projections showed.
"This is the beginning of a new political era," FPOe leader Heinz-Christian Strache said after what constitutes the best-ever result at federal level for the former party of the late Joerg Haider, calling it a "historic result".
"One thing has become clear here -- a huge and massive dissatisfaction with the government... I am convinced that as president, Norbert Hofer will act as protector of the Austrian people," Strache said.
The result means that for the first time since 1945, Austria will not have a president backed by either Chancellor Werner Faymann`s Social Democrats (SPOe) or their centre-right coalition partners the People`s Party (OeVP).
The centre-right OeVP`s candidate Andreas Khol came fourth with 11.2 percent, just ahead of SPOe`s Rudolf Hundstorfer on 10.9 percent.
Facing Hofer on May 22 is likely to be Alexander van der Bellen, backed by the Greens, who garnered 21 percent, or independent candidate Irmgard Griss, a former judge hoping to be Austria`s first female president, who won nearly 19 percent.
The only candidate who fared worse than the main parties` candidates was Richard Lugner, an 83-year-old construction magnate and socialite married to a former Playboy model 57 years his junior, who won just over two percent.Support for the two main parties, which have between them run Austria since 1945, has been sliding for years and in the last general election in 2013 they only just gained enough support to re-form their "grand coalition".
The rise of fringe parties has been mirrored across Europe, including in Spain, Britain and Germany.
Marine Le Pen, leader of France`s National Front who is bidding to become president next year, tweeted her congratulations to the FPOe for its "magnificent result".
Leading opinion polls ahead of 2018 general elections with more than 30 percent is the FPOe, boosted by Europe`s migrant crisis despite a firmer line in recent months from Faymann`s government.
Last year Austria received 90,000 asylum requests, the second highest in Europe on a per capita basis.
Austria no longer has the lowest unemployment rate in the European Union and Faymann`s coalition, in power since 2008, has bickered over structural reforms.
David Pfarrhofer from the Market polling institute said the traditional parties cannot continue "messing around" if they want to stay in power.
"It`s not so much about personalities but about issues... Something needs to change if the SPOe and the OeVP want to avoid another debacle like this," Pfarrhofer told AFP.
Reinhold Lopatka, head of the OeVP bloc in parliament, said the result "means we definitely cannot go back to business as usual".
"In my view this election was partly about personalities and on the other hand a protest vote," Lopatka said.Having a president in the Habsburg dynasty`s former palace in Vienna not from either of the two main parties could shake up the traditionally staid and consensus-driven world of Austrian politics.
Hofer -- the "friendly face of the FPOe" who likes to carry his Glock gun in public -- has threatened to fire the government if it fails to get tougher on migrants.
Van der Bellen, who will likely pose Hofer a stiff challenge on May 22, has said he would refuse to swear in Strache as chancellor in 2018 if his party comes first in elections then.
"The role is like that of a sleeping giant who has a lot more authority than people are aware of," legal expert Manfried Welan told AFP.