The southern Austrian state of Carinthia was long a source of inspiration for right-wing populists across Europe. As early as 1989, the Freedom Party of Carinthia (FPK) briefly nabbed the governor’s mansion in the state. In 1999, the right-wingers – behind the charismatic leadership of Jörg Haider – emerged victorious in state elections once again, and have managed to hold onto the state since.
Until Sunday, that is. In a key state election seen as a bellwether for the Austrian general election approaching in September, Carinthian voters delivered a painful blow to the FPK, the state chapter of the national Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ). Sunday evening exit polls indicated that the FPK managed a mere 17.1 percent of the vote – a veritable collapse since their 45 percent result four years ago. It was the largest vote-on-vote disintegration ever seen in postwar Austria.
The Social Democratic party SPÖ won with 37.1 percent of the vote, while the center-right ÖVP landed in third place with 14.2 percent.
Sunday’s result – combined with their meager 8.2 percent showing in the other Austrian state election on Sunday, in Lower Austria – does not bode well for the right-wing populists this autumn. “It was a clear rejection and a … clear demand for a restart,” said a visibly irate FPÖ head Hans-Christian Strache on Austrian television on Monday morning.