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Europe

Haider's Death Unlikely to Reunite Austrian Right

Austria's right-wing populist Alliance for the Future of Austria party named a new head. But experts say the change in leadership probably won't lead to a political shake-up in the Austrian right in the near future.

Joerg Haider

Even his opponents admitted Haider was a master politician

The Alliance for the Future of Austria named Stefan Petzner as it new leader on Sunday, Oct. 12, following the death of Joerg Haider on Saturday, the Austrian news agency (APA) reported. Petzner, 27, had been Haider's spokesman since 2004.

Haider died in a car accident early on Saturday near Klagenfurt, capital of Carinthia, when the car he was driving veered off the road after passing another vehicle at 142 km per hour (88 mph), twice the legal speed limit, and hit a number of obstacles, including a fence's concrete foundation, state prosecutors said Sunday.

Hundreds of people held prayers, lit candles and placed wreaths on Sunday at government headquarters in the regional capital of Klagenfurt, where Haider had been governor, and at the accident site.

"They are big shoes to fill, but I will keep moving, not stumble," Petzner was quoted as saying. On Saturday he had reacted to the news of Haider's death, saying, "For us, this is like the end of the world."

In parliamentary elections in late September, the populist Alliance won almost 11 percent of the ballots, nearly doubling its votes from the previous elections in 2006.

Haider divided Austrian right

Police inspect the wreckage of Joerg Haider's car

Haider's death came as a shock to Austria and the world

Haider's party split in 2005 from the Freedom Party, which gained prominence under Haider's leadership in the 1980s and 90s. The two parties could have potentially formed part of a coalition government had their respective leaders not been rivals.

"Freedom is clearly interested in Alliance to grow, and now the old adversary Joerg Haider is gone too," political analyst Peter Filzmaier told Reuters news agency. "A deal would be possible without anybody losing his face after Haider's death. The question is how quick can Alliance get its act together again."

Vienna daily Der Standard wrote Sunday that the "far right would now be able to reunify" without the head of the Freedom Party having to fight for his position.

Other observers doubted Haider's death will have much of an impact on the Austrian political landscape in the near future.

"It doesn't follow that everybody who voted for the Alliance would transfer allegiance to Freedom," Peter Pulzer, an expert in Austrian affairs at Oxford University, told Retuers. "Not everybody voted for Alliance for political reasons, but rather on the grounds of personality."

Neither of the parties has officially commented on whether a reunification of the two parties in the wake of Haider's death is on the cards.

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