The far right in Austria is going into this weekend’s general election in confident mood. Their fortunes appear to have been boosted by the sharp economic downturn and rising inflation that has have driven up the cost of living. Both the Freedom Party and Jorg Haider’s new party say their championing the cause of “real Austrians”.
They portray immigration as at least part of the problem. Out of a population of 8.4 million 1.4 are of foreign origin, primarily form the Balkans and Turkey.
Against this background the Freedom Party, under the leadership of Heize Christian Strache, have proposed a halt to immigration and the creation of a ministry of repatriation.
The Freedom Party has been reinvigorated by the youthful Strache and is trying to broaden its appeal. With an eye on young voters it has tried to protray Strache as a kind of revolutionary.
He himself has blasted the main centre-right and centre-left parties as a self-serving and ineffectual establishment. “The lot of poor people is worsening, this is anti-social politics. I say: lets stop these politicians with their cold social politics, whether they are called Molterer or Faymann. They should retire,” he said recently.
Whether Faymann Strache regards Haider as part of the old guard is not so clear. The governor of the Corinthia region founded his Alliance for Austria’s Future after breaking from the Freedom Party in 2005. The new party shares many of the aims of its far-right counterpart. But Haider is more pro-EU and has focused on social policy and the economy in this campaign. “I believe I am the only politician who can apply anti-inflationary measures in Austria, as I have done in Carinthia,” he said.
Together both parties could capture up to a quarter of the vote. The rest of Europe will look on with interest on the coalition horse trading that seems sure to follow Sunday’s election.