The poor results for the Freedom Party distract from the fact that right-wing rhetoric has entered the Austrian political mainstreamby Gabriel Byng / October 1, 2019 / Leave a comment
Graffiti, like any commodity, is not distributed equally and in Vienna, the election posters of the far-right Freedom Party—the FPÖ—have had a near-monopoly. During the election campaign, it became increasingly difficult to find an unblemished picture of the party’s new leader, Norbert Hofer, or his parliamentary leader, Herbert Kickl.
Their posters’ tattered edges showed scraps of Hofer’s spiffy suits, checked ties and pocket squares, and cheery smile. Beneath inked-on moustaches or devil horns, Kickl wore the modern politician’s uniform: open-necked white shirt, steel-rimmed glasses and designer stubble. The two men are often described by journalists as good cop and bad cop: Hofer, affable and even-tempered, Kickl, the hard-line polemicist.
Now that the results are in, and the FPÖ’s share of the vote has plummeted, the posters have a new bathos. Even outside the metropolitan capital, in the party’s traditional homelands in the rural south, the FPÖ saw dramatic losses. Two days ago, Hofer was being described as a wolf in sheep’s clothing, whose rebranding of the party would open a new direction for the European right. Now, rumours are circulating that the party will split, with a breakaway faction under the former leader Heinz-Christian Strache, and Hofer’s resignation is being widely discussed.
The Austrian media is consumed in a fervent guessing game about whom Sebastian Kurz, the former chancellor and leader of the winning ÖVP, will choose as a coalition partner. Few are still betting on the FPÖ. It was only in May that Kurz’s government was brought down by the scandalous ‘Ibiza affair’, in which he first threw the FPÖ out of office and then lost a vote of no confidence. It is a risk Kurz now seems unlikely to take twice.
The only less likely option is a partnership with the second-placed SPÖ, after a rancorous election campaign and the party’s disastrous results. The decision would be unpopular with voters tired of the country’s long history of grand coalitions. Most predict that Kurz will try either to rule as a minority single-party government or to govern with the Greens, the other major winner. To do so would be a remarkable departure in Austria’s political history.
The place of the right
But in either case, the election is far from the death knell…