Austrian politics is set to tip to the right less than a year after averting a far-right presidency by the populist Freedom party, with the party on course to emerge as coalition kingmaker in Sunday’s national elections.
Though currently fighting for second place behind 31-year-old Sebastian Kurz of the centre-right Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP), the Freedom party has managed to dictate the agenda of a campaign centred largely around immigration and fears of radical Islam, and will receive a last-stretch boost from a “dirty campaigning” row between the traditional centre parties.
Neither Kurz nor incumbent chancellor Christian Kern of the centre-left SPÖ have ruled out entering a coalition with the Freedom party, whose current leader Heinz-Christian Strache could become the first European politician with a neo-Nazi background to sit in government since the second world war.
If it enters government, the Freedom party wants to deny migrants access to welfare payments, introduce Swiss-style referendums and push for Austria to join the Visegrád group of central European states whose borders overlap with the 19th-century Austro-Hungarian empire.
FPÖ politician Norbert Hofer, who was beaten in the race for the Austrian presidency by Green-backed Alexander van der Bellen in December 2016, will be pushed by the party as a candidate for the foreign ministry.
Founded by a former Nazi functionary and SS member after the end of the second world war, the Freedom party became the first rightwing populist party to form part of a government in postwar Europe when its late leader Jörg Haider entered a coalition with the conservative ÖVP in 2000 – a that which was at the time met with outrage and economic sanctions from Israel…