A hard right turn - Macleans.ca

A hard right turn

Austria’s far-right Freedom Party is surging in the polls

by
A hard right turn

Eliana Aponte/Xinhua/Redux

The far-right Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ) is riding a wave of renewed popularity, with support levels hovering around 26 per cent in recent months—rivalling Austria’s mainstream social democrat and centre-right parties for the first time in nearly a decade. That’s raised the possibility that Heinz-Christian Strache, the party’s controversial leader, will become Austria’s next chancellor. More likely, the FPÖ could join a coalition. The last time that happened, 14 EU members temporarily froze diplomatic relations with Austria because the FPÖ in government “legitimizes the extreme right in Europe.”

Under Strache, the FPÖ has reaffirmed its anti-immigration policies and its anti-EU stance. His FPÖ also employs populist rhetoric that blames the country’s problems on the detached elitism of Vienna’s political class. The 42-year-old former dental technician has been accused of xenophobia, and he allegedly has past ties to neo-Nazi groups. But he’s already trumpeting his desire to take the chancellery after the 2013 election. Maybe the prospect of a right-wing nationalist heading the government in “Red Vienna” isn’t as far-fetched as it used to be.