Austrian far-right set for drubbing in state vote

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

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

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

Even after his death in 2008, his party won 44.9 percent of the vote in the state. But because of corruption scandals, support was expected to fall to 20-26 percent, polls showed.

The Freedom Party's woes 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.

In Sunday's other election in Lower Austria, the country's biggest state, the SPOe's federal coalition partner, the centre-right People's Party (OeVP), was set to remain in power.

The only question was whether governor Erwin Proell would win again an 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 northeastern Austria and 10-14 percent in Carinthia in the south, enough for entry into the state parliaments.