January 28, 2014 / 11:52 AM / 6 years ago

Billionaire Stronach to quit Austrian parliament after setbacks

VIENNA (Reuters) - Austrian-Canadian billionaire Frank Stronach said on Tuesday he was quitting Austria’s parliament, 16 months after founding a party that he hoped would reshape its political landscape but fell short of his ambitions.

Austrian-Canadian billionaire Frank Stronach attends a news conference in Vienna January 28, 2014. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger

He advocated wresting politics away from professional politicians, giving big tax breaks to companies that invest at home, and boosting purchasing power for workers. But Stronach scored a disappointing 6 percent in national elections in September after a campaign on which he lavished 30 million euros (24 million pounds) - 20 million outright and 10 million in loans - and rose as high as 10 percent in opinion polls.

“I will announce in parliament tomorrow that I am giving up my seat,” the 81-year-old auto parts magnate told a news conference. He would remain chairman of Team Stronach for the time being but play a less active role in the party.

“I am not disappointed. I have sown seeds,” he said, expressing confidence his party would carry on his agenda.

While he acknowledged he sometimes wondered whether it would have been better to spend his money on social projects, he defended his late-in-life entry into Austrian politics.

“I have never regretted it. I am who I am.”

The political maverick, who left Austria for Canada aged 21 and made a fortune after founding car-parts firm Magna International in a garage, had hoped to break the mould of centrist coalitions that has dominated Austria’s post-war politics.

His unorthodox approach and promise to boost private enterprise initially appealed to many Austrians, particularly the elderly and non-voters fed up with big government and with an establishment that seemed elitist and remote.

But as the elections neared Stronach alienated supporters with embarrassing media appearances in which he warned of the danger of China invading Austria, said he supported the death penalty for contract hit men and harangued his interviewers.

Still, the 11 parliamentary seats his party won helped reduce the ruling coalition of Social Democrats and conservative People’s Party to their narrowest election victory ever, and dented support for the far-right Freedom Party.

Team Stronach began to fall apart after the elections as infighting broke out and Stronach fired many top officials. The party gets only 2 percent support in polls now.

Stronach, who splits his time between Canada and Austria for tax reasons, said he will now spend more time in his adopted homeland where his family lives. He will halt donations to his party but remain at its disposal should it need advice.

“I have my cell phone and I will always call back,” he said.

Reporting by Michael Shields; Editing by Mark Heinrich

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