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Europe

Far-Right Austrian Wins Re-Election

Austria's outspoken nationalist Jörg Haider looks set to return to national prominence after winning a tough reelection as governor in the state of Carinthia on Sunday.

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With nationalist rhetoric Haider gets reelected governor.

One of Europe's most successful far-right politicians proved he could still pull in the votes with nationalist and xenophobic rhetoric and hold onto his seat as the governor in Austria's southern state of Carinthia.

With 90 percent of ballots counted, Jörg Haider's Freedom Party (FPÖ) garnered 42.4 percent of the vote, compared to just over 38 percent for the rival Socialists and a lowly 11.6 percent for Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel's conservative People's Party.

"Nobody figured we had a chance again of being number one," Haider boasted to the Austria Press Agency after the preliminary results came out.

National significance

While the voting was restricted to Carinthia, it's significance extends all the way to Vienna. Beyond seeking reelection as governor, Haider made no secret of his plans to use a win in the southern state as a springboard for reclaiming national prominence.

"I want to revive the FPÖ from Carinthia," Haider repeated in campaign speeches throughout the state.

Nationally, however, the Freedom Party only enjoys about 10 percent support, compared to close to 30 percent four years ago when it first entered the federal government.

In Salzburg, where Austrians also voted in regional elections on Sunday, the FPÖ received less than 10 percent of votes, suggesting that the success in Carinthia owed more to Haider's personal charisma than a national revival for the party.

On the rebound?

Haider's victory on Sunday may be the demonstration of strength the populist politician needs to return to national party politics. After stepping down from party leadership in 2000 and retreating to Carinthia, Haider seems to be itching to return to the bigger stage.

But many blame Haider for the party's national demise and will be watching closely to see what the fiery far-rightist has in store.

After skyrocketing into the national coalition four years ago with Schüssel's conservatives, Haider quickly began chalking up bad marks for comments that sounded sympathetic to the Nazis and contemptuous of foreigners and minorities. A visit with Saddam Hussein on the eve of the Iraq war and a friendship with Moammar Gadhafi when Libya was still on the international blacklist, as well as a recent comparison between U.S. President George Bush and Hitler, have cost him the support of party followers.

When the European Union slapped temporary sanctions on Austria to protest the FPÖ's role in the governing coalition, Haider got out of the limelight. Since handing over the party leadership, he's tried to run things from the sidelines, but has instead alienated supporters and driven voters to other parties.

"I regret nothing and see no reason to change my political agendy," Haider told the Associated Press. "For speaking plainly you are attacked by your political opponents. Then two or three years later, they suddenly agree with you."

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