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Austria's Far Right Loses Ground in Polls

November 24, 2002|From Times Wire Services

VIENNA — The far-right surge that catapulted the Freedom Party into Austria's governing coalition in 1999 and sparked consternation throughout the European Union appears to be over, according to polls ahead of today's parliamentary elections.

Damaged by feuds and defections, many of them fueled by the backroom machinations of its mercurial unofficial leader, Joerg Haider, the Freedom Party has seen its support plummet, and it seems likely to return to an opposition role.

Polls predict the party will win 11% to 13%, a sharp drop from 1999, when it finished second with 27% and formed a coalition with the business-friendly People's Party of Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel, which had finished third.

Alarmed by Haider's anti-foreigner stance, veiled slights of Jews and open admiration for some of Adolf Hitler's policies, the EU imposed seven months of diplomatic sanctions. Israel recalled its ambassador and hasn't returned him.

Polls on Friday showed Schuessel's party and the opposition Social Democrats running neck and neck with about 37% each. That means the winner will need a coalition partner.

For the Social Democrats, it probably would be the environmentally focused Greens party, which is running third in the polls, meaning a government similar to Germany's. If Schuessel's party tries to form a coalition, its most likely partner would be the Freedom Party.

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