Austria’s far-right was set for a drubbing yesterday in the former fiefdom of its late leader, Joerg Haider, in one of two state elections ahead of a national vote in the autumn.
The contests in Carinthia and Lower Austria were also the first electoral test for Austro-Canadian euroskeptic auto parts billionaire Frank Stronach since his entry into Austrian politics in September last year.
Haider sent shockwaves through Europe in 2000, when his party became part of the federal government and even after support fell and his movement split, he remained popular in Carinthia.
Even after his death in 2008, his party won 44.9 percent of the vote in the state. However, because of corruption scandals, support was expected to fall to between 20 and 26 percent, polls showed.
The Freedom Party’s woes have raised hopes among the Social Democrats, the party of Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann, of winning back the state, with polls putting the party in pole position on between 31 and 37 percent.
In yesterday’s other election in Lower Austria, the country’s biggest state, the Social Democrats’ federal coalition partner, the center-right People’s Party, was set to remain in power.
The only question was whether Lower Austrian Governor Erwin Proell would win another absolute majority, amid signs that some voters have been lured away by the 80-year-old Stronach’s big-spending campaign.
Stronach launched his euroskeptic “Team Stronach” party in September last year after returning to the country he left as a teenager for Canada, where he made his fortune with auto parts giant Magna International and in horse racing.
Polls indicate that his party will attract between 6 and 10 percent of the vote in Lower Austria in northeastern Austria and between 10 and 14 percent in Carinthia in the south, enough for entry into the state parliaments.