Austrian Rightwing firebrand Joerg Haider, 58, has announced that he will return from his home province, where he is executive head, to contest national elections on September 28 this year. It is a patriotic duty to lead his Alliance for the Future of Austria (BZÖ) to victory, says Haider, who has been criticised in the past for playing down Nazi war crimes and policies. Haider will return to national politics because he is sorry, he says, for the Austrian voter, forced to suffer the squabbles of the coalition government between the socialists and the conservatives that ruled for barely two years.
The Left-Right coalition finally collapsed last July. Opinion polls now predict that together with a rival Rightwing party, Haider could win a quarter of the national vote. Since the socialists and conservatives are running neck to neck in opinion polls less than a month before the elections, Austria may have to settle for yet another grand coalition between the Left and Right. The other choice is for the party with the largest number of votes to suffer the extreme Right political parties as coalition partners.
The last time Haider's party made it to the government in 1999, a hue and cry was raised around the world and the European Union slapped sanctions on Austria. In the run up to this election, his campaign continues to be a cry against the country's immigration policies and Haider is expected to try only harder to fill the hearts of voters with anti-foreigner feelings.
After having made social democracy work for the country for nearly 100 years, both the Christian democrats and social democrats seem to have run out of ideas, leaving the Austrian voter stranded at the crossroads. In post-war Austria, the Left and the Right decided to bury ideological differences and to work together to rebuild a nation shattered during the last world war under the umbrella of a grand coalition. The Austrian socialist and conservative parties divided their work within the government and healed the country back to its feet.
However, by the 1980s, the continuous rule of the grand coalition frustrated both voters and new political parties and a protest vote finally made the cookie crumble. If opinion polls are to be trusted, the voters would like to bring the socialists and green party politicians to power.
The majority of voters are not attracted to Haider's kind of politics. The latest polls suggest that the social democrats are closely tied in the election race and have made gains over their conservative rivals from 25 per cent last month to 27 per cent. Twenty eight per cent of voters will vote for the conservatives, a number down from 29 per cent last month. Haider's original and now rival Far-Right Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ) is third, having gone up from 15 per cent to 17 per cent, followed by the Greens, up from 14 to 15 per cent.
Support for Haider's breakaway BZÖ is at the moment down from seven to five per cent. "I would like to vote for the socialists again but the politics in the country is so uninspiring these days," says Monika Tschida, 25, from a family of socialist party loyalists. Tschida is also tempted by the ideals of the Green Party but is not sure what green politicians can do about issues like rising inflation and low birth rates.
What Austrian voters miss is an inspiring blueprint from politicians that will give them a glimpse of what life will look like for the future generations. "Then it makes sense to invest in the future, in politics and to willingly pay taxes," says another young voter who remains undecided.
In discussions, young Austrians regret the negligible influence of intellectuals on politics. "After all, there was a period when intellectuals actively thought of socialist ideals for a long time before socialism actually influenced politics. The period that encourages that kind of thinking, which later leads to practice, is missing from my life," a student told Hardnews.
Uninspiring politics of uninspiring politicians has added to the apathy among voters that is steadily increasing. Analysts admit that this month, the number of undecided voters went up to 27 per cent from 12 per cent last month.The current Austrian Times online poll shows that 45 per cent of respondents expect a
significant swing of disappointed voters to the Far Right, with 25 per cent looking forward to perhaps yet another weak governing coalition in Austria after yet another snap poll in the country on September 28, 2008.