Far right makes large gains in Vienna vote
VIENNA (Reuters) - Austria's resurgent far-right party won over a quarter of the vote in Vienna's provincial election Sunday as voters took their discontent about immigration and security to the ballot box.
The elections in "Red Vienna," a traditional stronghold of the centre-left Social Democrats, reflect a wider European trend as voters concerned about the economic crisis and integration of Muslims turn to rightist parties.
Vienna's Social Democrats under Michael Haeupl, mayor since 1994, won 44.1 percent, losing their absolute majority.
Heinz-Christian Strache's far-right Freedom Party scooped up 27.1 percent, up from 15 percent in 2005.
All the other main parties lost ground in Vienna, Austria's capital and financial hub with just over a million eligible voters, and its most ethnically diverse province.
The results suggest Freedom, which has called for a ban on mosques with minarets and on Islamic face veils, is returning to its strength of the late 1990s.
The far right has been a significant part of Austria's political landscape for years. Under Joerg Haider, killed in a car crash in 2008, it gained appeal by tapping into xenophobia, anti-European Union sentiment and fears of globalisation.
In 2000, the Freedom Party became a minority partner with the conservatives in the national government, leading other EU states to impose mild diplomatic sanctions against Austria.
FAR RIGHT RISING
A string of strong electoral performances since 2008, when Freedom and a smaller rightist party together secured almost a third of the vote in a national election, have put pressure on both Social Democrats and conservatives.
The Vienna result may strain their partnership at the national level ahead of tough budget negotiations this year.
Analysts say that if the centrist parties keep losing support, they might start catering more to far-right concerns on social policy, mulling for example a ban on Islamic face veils in public and stricter limits on immigration.
They might also consider teaming up with Freedom at a national level when Austria votes again in 2013.
Haeupl, 61, a close ally of Social Democrat Chancellor Werner Faymann, called the Vienna result "regrettable" but ruled out teaming up with Freedom to form a coalition.
"I'm sorry, I just can't do it," he said.
As at the national level, the Social Democrats will probably turn to the third-placed centre-right conservatives if they need a coalition partner.
Strache, 41, who campaigned with the slogan "Too much foreignness does no one any good," called Faymann "the election-loser of the nation."
"Of course this has an importance at the federal level," he said.
The far right has been gaining ground across Europe. Geert Wilders's anti-Islam party will have an important shadow role in the Dutch government, and in Sweden a far-right party entered parliament after elections last month.
(Additional reporting by Alexandra Zawadil)
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