THE EUROSCEPTIC anti-Islam party is at the forefront of a radical shift in Austrian politics.
By Reiss Smith
The Freedom Party of Austria (FPO) came close to winning a recent presidential election with its candidate Norbert Hofer winning 49.7 per cent of the vote in April.
Former Green Party leader Alexander Van der Bellen narrowly beat him with 50.3 per cent, despite two exit polls putting Mr Hofer ahead.
The historic result marked the first time since 1945 that Austria had not voted for a candidate from its two main parties.
Amid suspicions of voter fraud, the FPO immediately launched an appeal against the result. A re-run of the election has been announced after a probe found “sloppiness” at several counts across the country.
Mr Hofer is the favourite to win the re-run on Sunday October 2 – the same day as the Hungarian referendum on EU migrant quotas.
A recent poll by the Öesterreich newspaper gave Mr Hofer a four point lead over Mr Van der Bellen.
If Mr Hofer wins, he will become Europe’s first far-right leader to be elected since the end of the Second World War.
The Freedom Party was founded in 1956 as a successor the the League of Independents – a nationalist party representing the interests of the Nazis.
By the 1980s the party had shifted to the political centre and entered into a coalition government with the Social Democratic Party.
After Jorg Haider was elected as the party’s new leader in 1986, he restored the party to its far-right roots and ushered in a new Eurosceptic manifesto opposing migration and Islam.
The new FPO saw unprecedented electoral success, and after the 2000 general election struck a new power-sharing deal with fellow right-wingers the People’s Party.
In 2005, there was a bitter internal row that lead to Mr Haider and the entire party leadership defecting to form the Alliance for the Future of Austria (BZO).
The BZO splinter group replaced the FPO in government, and stormed to victory in the 2006 and 2008 general elections.
After Mr Haider’s death in 2008, BZO elected a new leader who morphed the party into a more centrist conservative movement.
As a result large swathes of members abandoned the party in 2010 and went back to the FPO.
The reunited party has since gone from strength to strength, benefiting from growing unease over the European migrant crisis.
What does the Freedom Party of Austria want?
The FPO strongly opposes the “Islamisation of Europe”, and have proposed a full ban on the burka.
He has said “I am fully certain that Austrian people will not accept Turkish membership in the bloc, as well as the situation where Austria is deprived of its powers in favour of the authorities in Brussels.”
The party has also called for stricter border controls and a clamp down on immigration, in line with its slogan “Austria first”.
The clip, which was subtitled in Arabic, featured politician Armin Sippel explaining “what is and what is not allowed” when it comes to everday interaction with females.