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Far-right electoral success: a poisoned chalice?

– Austrian exception –

“It’s not uncommon for relatively new and unorganised populist radical right parties to split directly after success, as they have no structure to divide the new spoils,” agreed Cas Mudde, associate professor at the University of Georgia.

Often, however, the splits are more strategic or personal rather than ideological in nature, Mudde told AFP, and voters stay loyal provided the party “survives in a fairly coherent manner.”

An example is the Freedom Party (FPOe) in Austria, which is widely expected to come second or third in elections on October 15 and become junior coalition partners of Sebastian Kurz’s People’s Party (OeVP) conservatives.

The FPOe last became part of the government in 2000 under controversial then-leader Joerg Haider, prompting protests, an outcry in Israel and Austria being ostracised in Europe for a time.

However, five years later the party went through a painful split as Haider, who died in 2008, broke off to form his own movement.

Now though, the FPOe is riding high, with the party’s candidate Norbert Hofer coming close to winning the presidency last year and party chief Heinz-Christian Strache on the verge of becoming deputy chancellor.

– ‘Like a pressure cooker’ –

The FPOe “definitely learned from this process (after 2000) and are now trying to nip in the bud any possibility of splits,” Austrian political analyst Thomas Hofer told AFP.

Camus said that actually having experience of being in government — as is the case with the FPOe and the Northern League in Italy — and having the real prospect of returning to power can help heal rifts.

For the FN, “it’s like a pressure cooker. They’re wondering why things aren’t working, looking for scapegoats, tearing themselves apart over their fundamental issues,” he said.

And for the FPOe, things may end badly if they perform poorly in next month’s vote.

“A disappointing result… could quickly change things and it could be the beginning of the end of the Strache era,” said Austrian expert Anton Pelinka.

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