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Austria's elections show some still riveted by right-wing

Austria's elections show some still riveted by right-wing

The face of Austria's far right may have changed, but it's still attractive to some.
Austria's two rightist parties got more than 15 percent of the vote in recent parliamentary elections, indicating some citizens of the alpine republic are still drawn to right-wing rhetoric.
It's a far cry from seven years ago, when rightwing firebrand Joerg Haider took his Freedom Party to a stunning second-place finish with nearly 27 percent of ballots. But the strong showing for the far-right suggests xenophobia remains deep-rooted in some sectors of society.
With absentee ballots still being counted, Austria's rightist Freedom Party _ now led by Heinz-Christian Strache _ got 11.2 percent of the vote in Sunday's poll, making it the third strongest party behind the Social Democrats and the center-right People's Party. Haider's new party, the Alliance for the Future of Austria, got 4.2 percent _ just enough to enter parliament.
Final results are expected early next week and could still influence the outcome.
"It shows that a significant minority of Austrians can still be mobilized in a xenophobic way using foreigners as scapegoats," said Anton Pelinka, director of the Vienna-based Institute of Conflict Research.
"It clearly demonstrates that even if Haider is out, his message is not."
Under Haider _ who gained notoriety for mocking Jews and praising some of Hitler's policies _ the Freedom Party entered the governing coalition, sparking an international outcry and months of sanctions from the European Union.
Haider has since toned down his rhetoric and in 2005 founded the more moderate Alliance for the Future of Austria in an attempt to distance himself from his rightist past.
In the last elections in 2002, the Freedom Party got 10 percent of the vote.
This time around, Strache campaigned on a distinctly anti-immigrant and anti-Islam platform. Among other things, he advocated tighter restrictions of the naturalization of immigrants, including stripping them of their Austrian citizenship if they don't adapt and integrate.
Turkey's ambassador to Austria appeared dismayed by the election results of the two parties.
"It's unfortunate they've been successful to that extent," Selim Yenel said in an interview with The Associated Press.
He criticized the Freedom Party for linking Turkey to radical Islam, something he referred to as an "alien concept."
"Radical Islam and Turkey don't mix. It's like black and white."
In the final weeks leading up to the elections, the Freedom Party put up posters with blatant anti-Islam messages. One read "Daham statt Islam," a play on words using Austrian dialect which, roughly translated, means "Home instead of Islam."
Yenel said he twice requested a meeting with Strache since January but never heard back. He's holding off for now, hoping instead that an interactive Web site the embassy launched last month will foster a dialogue with Austrians.
"Most of the concerns come from a lack of knowledge about Turkey," he said.
Mouddar Khouja of the Official Religious Islamic Community in Austria, said the success of the rightist parties showed that a significant sector of Austrian society resented immigrants and Muslims.
"But one shouldn't forget the 84.6 percent who clearly voted against these policies and this inflammatory campaign," said Khouja, personal adviser to the group's president.
"That makes us think positively about the future."
Strache aside, other parties were open to a dialogue with the Muslim community and the overall political climate in Austria was a good one, Khouja said.
While both the People's Party and the Social Democrats have said they would not consider forming a coalition with the Freedom Party, Strache indicated earlier this week he'd be willing to talk.
"If one is ready to talk to us, then we will talk," Strache told reporters in Vienna's Hofburg Wednesday where he met with Austrian President Heinz Fischer to discuss the election result.
He backtracked Friday, telling reporters that voters had cast their ballots for a so-called grand coalition between the Social Democrats and the People' Party.
Khouja said his group would be "very worried" if the Freedom Party became part of a governing coalition.
That, according to Pelinka, was unlikely to happen. Strache had recently softened his stance about wanting to be in the opposition to make himself look like a victim, he said.
"I don't think he can afford to go into a coalition," Pelinka said. "If he's acting rationally, he must see that his success is based on his behavior as an opposition force."
Pelinka, like many other political commentators, said the most likely postelection outcome was a grand coalition.
"At the moment, there's only a 'grand coalition' or a deep crisis: new elections very soon."


Updated : 2021-05-19 11:08 GMT+08:00