Austrian far right comes distant second as former bastion votes

Reuters , Sunday 4 Mar 2018

Austria's far-right Freedom Party (FPO) came a distant second in a regional election on Sunday, an initial projection showed, the third such vote this year in which it has failed to match its score in October's parliamentary election.

The vote was in Carinthia, a southern province that was the stronghold of the late FPO leader, Joerg Haider, who died in a car crash a decade ago.

It is the only province where the FPO came first in October's parliamentary election, with 32 percent of the vote. It came third nationally with 26 percent and went into coalition with Chancellor Sebastian Kurz's conservatives.

The main projection of the vote for Carinthia's regional parliament, by pollster SORA, showed Governor Peter Kaiser's Social Democrats first, as had been widely expected, with 47.9 percent of the vote, to the FPO's 22.9 percent.

The projection, for broadcaster ORF, published shortly after polls closed at 5 p.m. (1600 GMT) and based on a count of 57 percent of votes, was even worse for the FPO than a survey 10 days ago that showed it 20 points behind the Social Democrats.

Kurz's conservative People's Party came third with 15.3 percent while the Greens fell well short of the 5 percent needed to enter the local parliament, with 3.2 percent, the projection showed. Those two parties are currently in coalition locally with the Social Democrats.

Austria's provinces do not collect taxes directly but receive a cut of the national fiscal take and have a large say in policy areas including healthcare and education. Provincial governors are often key figures in the national political order.

The national coalition government has been in place for less than three months during which it has faced growing opposition to its plans to keep allowing smoking in bars and restaurants.

A petition for a ban has been signed by more than 460,000 people, an embarrassment for the FPO, which has championed the idea of direct democracy. Party members have also been embroiled in anti-Semitism scandals involving their student fraternities.

The Social Democrats' victory in Carinthia means Kaiser is likely to remain governor, keeping the party's tally at three of Austria's nine provincial leaders. The others are conservatives from Kurz's party.

Sunday's vote follows provincial election in Tyrol on Feb. 25 and in Lower Austria on Jan. 28 in which the FPO polled less than in the Oct. 15 national election.

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