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Austrian far-right loses power in Haider fiefdom

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Austria's far-right on Sunday lost power in the state of Carinthia, its late leader Joerg Haider's former stronghold, projections from state election results showed.

Following a string of corruption cases, the far-right Freedom Party saw its share of the vote more than halve to around 17.4 percent from 44.9 percent at the last election in 2009, state television projections showed.

And in a boost to federal Chancellor Werner Faymann ahead of national elections in the autumn, his Social Democrats (SPOe) looked set to be in charge in Austria's southernmost state for the first time 1999, coming first with 37.1 percent.

Faymann's coalition partners, the centre-right People's Party (OeVP) meanwhile scored a good result in Sunday's other election, retaining its absolute majority in Austria's largest state Lower Austria with 51.0 percent.

Haider sent shockwaves through Europe in 2000 when his far-right party became part of the Austrian federal government and even after support fell and his movement split, he remained hugely popular in Carinthia.

After Haider's drink-driving death in 2008, Carinthia remained his movement's main bastion, but a number of damaging corruption cases, as well as a lacklustre economic performance in the state, has eroded support since 2009.

The 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.

Heinz-Christian Strache, the leader of the Freedom Party nationally who is hoping for a repeat of Haider's 2000 triumph this autumn, called on Sunday the result in Carinthia "personally very disappointing".

"If Carinthia is run by a Social Democrats then he will bring to Carinthia all the asylum cheats," the 43-year-old told a party rally in state capital Klagenfurt on Saturday.

The two state elections were for the first time contested by eurosceptic billionaire Frank Stronach's new party, formed only last September. The Team Stronach party looked to have scored 10.6 percent in Carinthia and around 10 percent in Lower Austria.

Stronach had left Austria as a teenager for Canada with a few dollars in his pocket, where he made his fortune with auto parts giant Magna and horseracing. He says European leaders were "stupid" to have created the euro.

His policies remain vague for now, talking only of slashing bureaucracy, reducing the national debt, imposing a flat rate of income tax and a new "Marshall Plan" for the battered economies of southern Europe.

"Team Stronach's focus is on the federal elections. State elections... are pure test runs for us," the 80-year-old told the Oesterreich daily on Sunday.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130303/austrian-far-right-loses-power-haider-fiefdom-0