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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Far-Right Haider Eyes Chancellorship

VIENNA -- Europe's strongest right-wing movement is getting stronger. Fresh from a triumph at the polls Sunday, the leader of a far-right Austrian party is setting his sights on Austria's top political prize: the chancellorship.


"It's logical that a party which develops like ours has to think about carrying the responsibility of government," Joerg Haider, the hard-right nationalist, said at a news conference Tuesday.


Haider's Freedom Party got more than 27 percent of the vote Sunday in elections for the European Parliament, drawing even with the traditional socialist and centrist parties that have been in power since the end of World War II.


Much of the world has focused on Haider's notorious side -- his anti-foreigner statements and his provocative comments about the Nazi era. Last year, he lauded the decency of veterans of Adolf Hitler's Waffen SS, units notorious for their wartime cruelty.


But Haider successfully wooed workers -- the traditional backbone of the Social Democrats -- playing on their fears that the social security and pension network they've depended on is threatened and that unemployment will jump as cost-cutting foreign companies buy out Austrian firms.


Austrians are better off than most of their continental neighbors, with unemployment among the lowest in Europe at 4.1 percent. Wages are high, and benefits are generous.


But Austrians are scared -- not so much of foreigners as of plans to cut generous social benefits burdening the budget. And they're looking to Haider to end the decades of privileges extended to politicians and civil servants.


"A change of power in this country is a real possibility -- and a necessity," wrote Hans Rauscher, one of Austria's most respected commentators, in the left-leaning Kurier.





The only question, Rauscher noted, is whether Haider, "the radical right populist, leads the country into misfortune" or whether a "coalition of reason" can revitalize the country and reform its moribund business and social structures.