Austria's Haider To Stay In Politics After Election Losses

By Eva Cahen | July 7, 2008 | 8:12 PM EDT

Paris ( - Joerg Haider, the far-right Austrian politician whose election success in 1999 earned his country seven months of diplomatic sanctions from the European Union, said Tuesday he would remain in politics despite a big loss of votes in Sunday's parliamentary elections.

The anti-immigration Freedom Party, which Haider led until last May, received just over 10 percent of the vote, a huge loss from 1999 when it became part of the government coalition.

On Monday evening, Haider announced in a radio interview that he was planning to step down from his position as governor of the province of Carinthia and was considering leaving politics altogether.

The announcements and change of mind were seen as one more of Haider's tactics to maintain power. In May 2000, when Austria became isolated from Europe because of Haider's presence in the government, he resigned as head of the Freedom Party but continued to rule it from behind the scenes.

Tarafa Baghajati, founder of the Austrian Muslims Initiative and a member of ENAR, the European Network Against Racism, said that Haider lost votes because his populist slogans stopped attracting voters.

"Haider's victory in 1999 was not because of support for his racism but because Austrians were fed up with their government and corruption," said Baghajati.

Haider, who has expressed sympathy for Nazi policies, became part of the center-right coalition government in 1999 after his anti-government campaign and anti-foreigner rhetoric won him 27 percent of the vote.

Baghajati said Haider's election loss came as a result of tactical errors in recent months in which he forced moderate Freedom Party members out of the government and chose to leave his party represented by extremists who were loyal to him\b .

"It was clear he would lose support but nobody thought he would lose so much so quickly," said Baghajati.

Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel's conservative People's Party won over 42 percent of the vote in Sunday's elections. Schuessel has not ruled out asking the Freedom Party to once again be his coalition partner, especially since the other two major parties, the Social Democrats and the Greens, would probably reject ruling with the conservatives.

Istvan Ertl, information officer with ENAR, said his organization would remain watchful in case the majority conservative party adopts Haider's racist and anti-foreigner policies.

"The People's Party has taken over much of Haider's agenda and objectives," said Ertl. "There might not be such a big difference between the right and the far right."

Analysts say the People's Party has moved to the right in their three years in government.

"And for now, Haider's party is still of concern to us if it becomes part of the government coalition," added Ertl.

See Earlier Story:
Israelis and Jews Alarmed by Far-Right Gains in Austria (5 Oct. 1999)