Election gains for Austria's far-right party
GRAZ, Austria – The far right Alliance for the Future of Austria (BZÖ) surprised pundits who said its appeal would wane without charismatic leader Joerg Haider, who died after a drunk driving crash in October.Skip to next paragraph
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On Sunday, the BZÖ won 45.5 percent of the vote in Carinthia, the rural province that Mr. Haider had made his personal political stronghold. For years, he had charmed locals with a blend of bonhomie, xenophobic rhetoric, and international media attention, which often hinted that he was a closet Nazi.
During Sunday's election, the party managed to improve its share of the vote by 3 percent, despite Haider's absence.
Haider's successor as governor is Gerhard Doerfler, a branch manager at a bank, who has a reputation for "earthiness." This impression was strengthened by a campaign in which he said it made sense to banish "asylum criminals" to remote holding centers because "protecting the population" is more important than human rights. He also told a racist joke to black German singer Roberto Blanco and pretended to suck the breast of a carnival caricature of a black woman. Haider's widow, Claudia, celebrated the victory by handing Doerfler a picture of her late husband and embracing him.
The Socialist Party dropped 10 percentage points to an all time low of 28.8 percent, having been the province's sure-fire political winner for decades. Its leader, Reinhart Rohr, went along with many commentators who said people had voted BZÖ in remembrance of Haider. It was, however, the center-right People's Party (ÖVP) that made the biggest gains, increasing their vote by 5 percentage points to 16.7 percent compared to 2004, while the the Greens struggled to win 5 percent, the threshold needed for a seat.
The Freedom Party (FPÖ), the far-right party Haider from which the BZÖ emerged in 2005 after bitter in-fighting, might have expected an improved performance against a party peddling similar policies but shorn of its original inspiration. But it managed just 3.6 percent of the vote. FPÖ leader Heinz-Christian Strache said it was time to consider a deal with the BZÖ similar to that between the conservative parties in southern Germany, where the two far right parties would agree not to compete directly in local elections.