Austria on the right track

Freedom Party leader Heinz-Christian Strache and his wife Philippa in the spotlight.

Anti-immigration Freedom Party looks strong going into elections

Austria’s far-right party, proving to be a powerful presence in the federal elections, hopes to unify the country by challenging the centrist establishment and form a ruling coalition.

The new strength of the anti-immigration, anti-Islam, anti-EU party mirrors that of the Alternative for Germany party that became the third-largest force in the Bundestag after last month’s national elections.

220px-JoergHaider_Sep07The Freedom Party, one of Europe’s most established nationalist groups, has weathered a checkered past to become a formidable foe to take on the Social Democrats and conservative People’s Party that have dominated post-war politics inAustria.

The party’s renewed popularity began with Jörg Haider, the charismatic and flamboyant son of a former Nazi official, who took the organization to new heights during the 1990s. After Haider’s death in a car accident in 2008, the party was in disarray and barely a presence on the political scene.

Then along came Strache, a 48-year-old dental technician, who, as Marine Le Pen did with France’s National Front party, toned down the extreme-right rhetoric and distanced he party from its neo-Nazi, anti-Semitic past.

Sebastian Kurz (left) and Strache

The new approach worked and and now Strache’s party is forecast to come second or third and form a coalition with 31-year-old Sebastian Kurz’s conservative center-right People’s Party, thus making Strache the deputy chancellor.