Updated 9.15pm: The far right racist populist FPÖ party is likely to enter Austria’s government after preliminary results showed it coming second behind the conservative ÖVP in today’s parliamentary elections.
Preliminary results from the interior ministry put the FPO on 27.4%, behind the OVP’s 31.4%. This is an increase of nearly 7 percentage points since the last election in 2013 for the far right party, which has pushed the social democratic SPÖ on 26.7% into third place.
The strong performance by the Islamophobic and anti-immigrant party follows last year’s incredibly tight presidential election when the FPÖ came within a whisker of winning.
Such a result is likely to lead to a coalition government between the ÖVP, itself a hard right conservative party, and the FPÖ in which the far right racists will hold a very strong hand. The two parties have been in coalition before – in 1999, when Jörg Haider, an open admirer of the Waffen SS, was the party’s leader.
An ÖVP-FPÖ coalition would put a far right party in power in a country that has traditionally been seen as being at the heart of post-war western Europe – it is set to take the EU presidency next year. It would bring Austria much closer to the far right regimes in Hungary and Poland.
The election is a grim one for the SPÖ, which has seen its vote drop after years of coalition government with the ÖVP. The presidential poll, in which the FPÖ’s Hofer narrowly lost to green candidate Alexander van der Bellen, saw its vote slump to just 11.3% as working class voters dumped the party that had lined up with the Conservatives rather than stand up for them. Its vote in the parliamentary election is set to be much higher than that, but it could still be driven into third place behind the FPÖ.
Who are the FPÖ?
The FPÖ was formed in 1956 as the successor of the Verband der Unabhängigen, a group of so-called “de-Nazified” fascists and liberal republicans. Its first two leaders, Anton Reinthaller and Friedrich Peter, were both former members of the Waffen SS. However in the 1960s and 1970s the FPÖ became a centre right party promoting free market policies. Its first political breakthrough came in 1983 when it entered into a coalition government with the Social Democratic Party (SPÖ).
It remains a party with a mixed membership that includes some fascist elements.
The FPÖ’s turn to far right populism took place under the leadership of Jörg Haider, who became party leader in 1986. Under his leadership the party began to adopt racist policies attacking asylum seekers and migrants. Haider became notorious for speaking out in defence of the SS and praising Hitler’s “full employment” policies.
In 1999, the FPÖ won 26.9% of the vote in national elections, its best ever result, and entered into a coalition government with the centre right ÖVP. Following a series of poor election results the FPÖ split in 2005. Haider and the parliamentary section of the party left, forming the Alliance for the Future of Austria (BZÖ), but Haider was killed three years later in a car crash.
The leadership of FPÖ passed to Haider’s long-term disciple, Heinz-Christian Strache, in 2005. Under Strache the FPÖ has regained much of its electoral strength. It opposes European integration, it is rabidly opposed to Turkey entering the EU and attempts to portray itself as an anti-establishment party. Strache is also antisemitic: he was widely condemned in 2012 after he posted a caricature on his Facebook page of a banker with a hooked nose, wearing Star of David cufflinks.
The core electoral support for the FPÖ comes from its racist agenda. It spearheads campaigns against migrants and asylum seekers. The FPÖ has also targeted the country’s Muslim population, stirring up alarm against the so-called “Islamisation” of Austria. In the run up to the European elections in 2014, Andreas Moelzer, a leading FPO candidate, declared that the EU was in danger of becoming a “conglomerate of negroes”.
Presidential candidate Hofer is an advisor to Strache and has urged the party even further to the right. He is a member of a deeply reactionary pan-German nationalist student fraternity, an irredentist who wants Italy’s South Tyrol to be incorporated into Austria, and a man who has been photographed wearing the blue cornflower symbol adopted by Austria’s Nazis when they were banned in the 1930s.
In the 2015 European parliament elections the FPÖ polled a fifth of all votes. In October last year, the FPÖ came second with 30.7% in the Vienna state elections and it now stands in first place at around 30% in national opinion polls.