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Austrian Rightist Haider Wins Provincial Election

March 08, 2004|From Associated Press

VIENNA — Austrian far-right leader Joerg Haider, known for his anti-Jewish slurs and friendship with Saddam Hussein, won a surprise electoral victory in his home province of Carinthia on Sunday that strengthened his grip on a weakened party and assured his reappointment as governor.

With Haider's local Freedom Party polling more than 10 percentage points behind the Social Democrats just weeks before legislative elections in Carinthia, most analysts had predicted another defeat after a string of losses elsewhere over the last two years. Instead, final results showed the Freedom Party with 42.4%, compared with just more than 38% for the Social Democrats.

Although the vote represented a triumph for Haider in Carinthia, analysts disagreed on whether it had wider significance. Some see the results as an indication that Haider may be able to revitalize his party, which has less than 10% support nationally, compared with almost 30% four years ago.

"Haider's back," declared Werner Beutelmeyer of the Market Institute polling organization, predicting that with the win, he would become "stronger than ever" on the national scene.

But others disagreed. "It might be a comeback, but it's not a national trend for the Freedom Party," said Peter Ulram of the Fessel-GFK think tank.

As for Haider, he appeared to suggest that his party's win would not spur him back into national politics. "Of course I'm staying in Carinthia and will keep my word to my supporters," he said.

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