Hammering in Haider-land for Austrian far-right

Austria's far-right is set for a drubbing at the polls on Sunday in the former fiefdom of its late leader Joerg Haider, one of two state elections ahead of a national vote in the autumn.

The contests in Carinthia and Lower Austria also provide the first electoral test for Austro-Canadian eurosceptic auto-parts billionaire Frank Stronach since his entry into Austrian politics last September.

Austria's southernmost state Carinthia is best known for its lakes, mountains, poets and artists -- and also for Haider, who sent shockwaves through Europe in 2000 when his party became part of the federal government.

His movement's support then fell sharply nationally and it split, but the charismatic Haider remained a highly popular Carinthia governor and even after his drink-driving death in 2008 his party won 44.9 percent of the vote in the state.

But since then the Freedom Party (FPK), as it is now known, has become embroiled in a number of major corruption scandals, reducing its share of the vote to between 20-26 percent, according to polls ahead of Sunday's election.

These scandals have also added to accusations that Haider, along with making light of Nazi concentration camps and praising the Waffen SS, was extremely keen on using his power to line his pockets.

The Freedom Party's woes in Carinthia have raised hopes among the Social Democrats (SPOe), the party of federal Chancellor Werner Faymann, of winning back the state, with polls putting the party in pole position on 31-37 percent.

"I expect the SPOe to come first," the party's candidate Peter Kaiser said. "Three-quarters of Carinthians want a change."

In Sunday's other election in Lower Austria, the country's biggest state and the birthplace of Beethoven and Haydn, the SPOe's federal coalition partner, the centre-right People's Party (OeVP), is set to retain power.

The only question is whether governor Erwin Proell can win another absolute majority, amid signs that some voters have been lured away by the 80-year-old Stronach's big-spending campaign.

Stronach launched his eurosceptic "Team Stronach" party last September after returning to the country he left as a teenager for Canada, where he made his fortune with auto parts giant Magna International and horseracing.

Polls indicate that his party will attract between six and 10 percent of the vote in Lower Austria in north-eastern Austria and 10-14 percent in Carinthia, enough for entry into the state parliaments.

The sprightly Stronach is not standing as a candidate in either state but has vowed to shake things up from behind the scenes. His policies remain vague but he says the euro was a mistake and he wants to impose a flat rate of income tax.

An editorial in the Oesterreich daily said that if Stronach's party gets more than 15 percent of the vote in Carinthia, it will be a "sensation".

"But on the other hand, if Stronach is well under the 10-percent mark in Carinthia and in Lower Austria, his momentum ahead of federal elections will be badly damaged," the paper commented.