In 2018, the success of Austria’s far right Freedom Party, under its then-leader Heinz-Christian Strache, was peaking. Once a party non grata, it was invited into a coalition government following the 2017 elections by the "wunderkind" thirtysomething Sebastian Kurz and his Austrian People’s Party, a veteran political party reveling in new branding.
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No one thought a coalition which governed for nearly a year and half with almost no publicly contested animosities and frictions would end so soon. But end it did – with a splash.
First there was "IbizaGate," a graft-and corruption scandal surrounding a leaked video showing Strache offering government contracts to what he thought was a Russian oligarch, in exchange for behind-the-scenes support for the Freedom Party (FPO). That destroyed the coalition, forcing Strache to resign and giving the experienced but ever-smiling Norbert Hofer the extreme right party’s leadership.
– SPIEGEL ONLINE tweet
The Strache Recordings : Is Austria's Vice Chancellor for Sale? https://t.co/Bnmx0TVC74 pic.twitter.com/LKkkJk8GEL
— SPIEGEL ONLINE English (@SPIEGEL_English) May 17, 2019
The break-up with the FPO also opened up a window for the People’s Party elder statesmen to intervene in Kurz's autocratic rule – especially his appointment of staunch FPO members to the critical ministries of defense and interior. Removing FPO-chief ideologue Herbert Kickl from his position as interior minister, was the final death blow to the coalition.
Now, Austria faces national elections again. Is the far right still humiliated, or has it clawed back into electoral favor? Did the scandals even lose it many votes at all?
Ibizagate revealed the FPO’s willingness sell influence and state assets to murky foreign investors if it would serve to bolster its political power. But strikingly enough, this seems not to have had a consequentially severe impact on their electorate.
Even one week after the scandal erupted, the FPO won a big tally of 20 percent in the European Parliament elections (100,000 votes more than during the previous EU elections in 2014, and a loss of just six percent compared to the 2017 national elections ).