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After Haider, Austrian far-right could grow
Wed Oct 14, 2009 2:24am EDT
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By Alexandra Zawadil
KLAGENFURT, Austria (Reuters) - A year after his death in a car crash, a new memorial to Joerg Haider has become a temple to the man who shook up European politics with his anti-foreigner campaigns.
But where fans flock to the exhibits in Carinthia province to pore over such relics as Haider's childhood rocking horse and family photos, outside the province he ruled for more than a decade, his party's days look numbered.
The Alliance for Austria's Future has stumbled badly in regional elections held since Haider's death, failing to win enough votes to get seats in three provincial parliaments. In Carinthia in March it polled over 45 percent to retain power.
"His party was able to use a dead man to win a (provincial) election in Carinthia. They tried the same thing outside the province, and failed miserably," political analyst Peter Filzmaier said.
Ironically, the demise of the poster-boy of Austrian politics could open the door to a stronger right for elections that are due in 4 years but could come sooner if the governing coalition founders -- a common event in Austria.
The main center-left and center-right parties have been hemorrhaging votes, weakened by bland, faceless politicians -- the two had their worst showing since World War Two in 2008 because of perceptions they were out touch with concerns over the economy and immigration.
The only winners were the far-right parties Alliance and the Freedom Party. Freedom was Haider's original party before he split off to form the slightly more moderate Alliance in 2005.
The original Freedom Party at one point gained such mainstream appeal in the insular Alpine republic, feeding off xenophobia and anti-European Union sentiment, that it entered a governing coalition with the conservatives from 2000-2006.
Today, Freedom has managed to retain a strong political presence with a leader who is young and energetic and who appeals to the same younger disaffected crowd initially attracted to Haider.
Analysts say Heinz-Christian Strache, a vigorous, 40-year-old former dental technician, has been able to build on Haider's legacy using right-wing populism and painting himself as a man of the people.
"Just like Haider, Strache goes to discos and is especially attractive to young men without higher education," said political analyst Anton Pelinka.
Freedom Party has doubled its share of the vote in two provincial elections earlier this year.
It has performed well since Austria's voting age was lowered to 16. On his website, Strache is photographed in black and white like a movie star and fans can download his rap song, "Viva HC!" as a cellphone ringtone.
But Strache lacks Haider's chameleon-like qualities and rhetorical prowess, analysts say, and his party has so far failed to attract the more moderate right-wing voters that opt for Alliance or the conservatives.
Haider raised an international uproar in the 1990s when he touted the "proper labor policies" of Nazi Germany and praised surviving veterans of the murderous Waffen SS as "decent men of character" -- although he later expressed some regret for what he called "insensitive and ambiguous" remarks. Continued...
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