Austria far-right loses state election

March 04, 2013 - 1:13:58 am

VIENNA: Austria’s far-right lost power yesterday in its late leader Joerg Haider’s stronghold of Carinthia after a drubbing in a state election, five years after the charismatic figure’s drink-driving death.

The election in Carinthia and in a second state also marked the arrival as a political force of a new eurosceptic party created in 2012 by 80-year-old Frank Stronach, the Austro-Canadian auto parts and horseracing billionaire.

Following a string of corruption cases, the far-right Freedom Party saw its share of the vote in Carinthia more than halve to around 17.4 percent from 44.9 percent at the last election in 2009, projections on national television showed.

And in a boost to federal Chancellor Werner Faymann ahead of national elections later this year, his Social Democrats (SPOe) looked set to be in charge of Austria’s southernmost state for the first time since 1999, coming on top with 37.1 percent of 

the vote.

Faymann’s coalition partners, the centre-right People’s Party (OeVP) meanwhile scored a good result in yesterday’s other election, retaining its absolute majority in the largest state Lower Austria with 51 percent.

The Freedom Party also saw its score fall two percentage points in Lower Austria to 8.5 percent, relegating it to fourth place behind Stronach’s new party. The SPOe fell 3.9 percentage points to 21.6 percent there.

Haider sent shockwaves through Europe in 2000 when his far-right party became part of the Austrian federal government and even after support fell and his movement split, he remained hugely popular in Carinthia.

After Haider’s death in 2008, Carinthia remained his movement’s main bastion, but a number of damaging corruption cases, as well as a lacklustre economic performance in the state, has eroded support since 2009.

The scandals have also added to accusations that Haider, along with making light of Nazi concentration camps and praising the Waffen SS, was extremely keen on using his power to line his pockets.

Heinz-Christian Strache, the leader of the Freedom Party nationally who is hoping for a repeat of Haider’s 2000 triumph in the upcoming federal polls, yesterday called the result in Carinthia “personally very disappointing”. AFP