October 31, 2008

Austrians undaunted by Haider revelations

" Mr Haider’s popularity extended beyond Carinthia, the alpine region he governed for years and to which he retreated after setbacks in Vienna, was confirmed as recently as September. In general elections, the Alliance for the Future of Austria (BZO) – the splinter group he formed after falling out with the Freedom party in 2005 – almost tripled its vote to 11 per cent.

The Freedom party itself, now headed by Heinz-Christian Strache, a Haider protégé, performed as spectacularly, gaining 18 per cent of the vote. Together, almost one in three Austrians chose the far right. Young voters, particularly the 16-18-year-olds enfranchised for the first time under electoral laws lowering the voting age, were particularly supportive: more than 44 per cent of 16-19-year-olds backed the Freedom party, as did more than 33 per cent of all voters below 30.

Such strong support reflected the popularity of the rhetoric, charisma and the ability to capitalise on popular discontent of Austria’s far right leaders – in spite of a standard of living and employment rate that are the envy of many European Union neighbours.

The far right’s resilience in Austria owes something to the native conservatism of a small, mountainous country, where traditional rural values and the Catholic church remain influential. “Apart from eight years in the 1970s, when Social Democrats enjoyed an absolute majority, Austria has always had a centre-right political orientation. Austria is a conservative country,” says Peter Filzmaier, a top political commentator. "

No comments: