The ghost of Jörg Haider resurfaces following election in Austria

France’s Marine Le Pen and Geert Wilders, leader of the Dutch anti-EU, anti-Islam Freedom Party, will be rubbing their hands in glee

 

In one European state after another, it would appear, the successive crises, both economic and identity, that have shaken the EU over the last eight years have taken their toll on the political establishment. On Sunday Austria too saw its mainstream Social Democrats (SPÖ) and People’s Parties (PP) completely eclipsed in the first round of presidential elections by outsider candidates, as angry voters took their revenge.

The result is that the anti-immigrant far-right Freedom Party’s (FP) candidate, Norbert Hofer (45), will contest the second-round runoff on May 22nd against an independent candidate, Alexander Van der Bellen (72), a former leader of the Greens. They won 36 and 21 per cent respectively, while the SPÖ and PP came fourth and fifth with 11 per cent each. For the first time since 1945, Austria will not have a president backed by either party and neither party will be represented in the second round elections.

It is the FP’s best performance at federal level since its creation after the second World War, beating even the success of former party leader, the late Jörg Haider, who caused consternation in the EU when the Freedom Party forced its way into coalition with the PP from 2000 to 2006 resulting in deeply controversial political sanctions from fellow member states.

Hofer’s success is undoubtedly linked to his tough line on immigration – Austria saw 90,000 asylum requests last year, the second highest in Europe per capita. He wants out of the EU, to strengthen the country’s borders and army, demands a ban on head scarves for women and would end foreigners’ access to welfare.

Although unlikely to win the presidential election as Austria’s liberal majority will certainly rally behind Van der Bellen, the poll trend suggests the FP is almost certain to be in a position to enter coalition again after the 2018 general election. It would make it Europe’s most successful rightwing populist party. France’s Marine Le Pen and Geert Wilders, leader of the Dutch anti-EU, anti-Islam Freedom Party, will be rubbing their hands in glee.

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