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Stronach’s party gains steam in Austria state elections with eye on federal prize

Austrian-Canadian businessman and billionaire Frank Stronach of "Team Stronach" waves an Austrian flag during his final election rally on March 1, 2013. Mr. Stronach’s party won 11.3 per cent of the vote in the state of Carinthia and around 9.7 per cent in Lower Austria.

HEINZ-PETER BADER/REUTERS

Frank Stronach, the Austro-Canadian billionaire who has returned to Europe with aims to pull his native country back from the euro zone, passed his first electoral test when his newly formed party took 12 seats in two Austrian state elections Sunday.

Though Team Stronach has yet to flesh out a full platform, and saw the state elections as a test case ahead of the more important federal election later this year, Mr. Stronach said he was pleased with the showing. His party won 11.3 per cent of the vote in the state of Carinthia and around 9.7 per cent in Lower Austria.

That was enough to make it into parliament in Austria's proportional representation system, with five seats and a Cabinet position in each state, Mr. Stronach said in an interview from Vienna. "We did quite well," he said. "We had very little time to prepare."

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Federal Chancellor Werner Faymann's Social Democratic Party took Carinthia with 37.1 per cent of the vote. It also won 21.6 per cent in Lower Austria, the country's largest state where Mr. Faymann's coalition partners, the centre-right People's Party (OeVP), retained an absolute majority with 51 per cent, according to projections on national television.

But Mr. Stronach's party placed ahead of the far-right Freedom Party which took a drubbing in Carinthia – a state that was once its stronghold – nearly five years after the death of former leader Joerg Haider.

Mr. Faymann put a brave face on the challenge from Mr. Stronach. "I think that people who vote for Stronach are protest voters," he said. "I have met Frank Stronach and he strikes me as someone who will not stick around if he is not successful. He is not someone who should shape the future of Austria."

"You can buy lots of things with money," agreed Michael Spindelegger, head of the OeVP. "Yes, it was a successful election result for [Stronach], but it wasn't that brilliant either."

Mr. Stronach has been vague about his policies so far, talking only of slashing bureaucracy, reducing the national debt, imposing a flat income tax rate and creating a new "Marshall Plan" for the battered economies of southern Europe. He has also proposed to pull Austria out of the euro. "Common currency is a gigantic mistake," he said, promising more details on his party's plans in April, ahead of a September federal election where he predicted "we should do well. We have a lot more time to prepare."

Mr. Stronach stepped down from the board of Magna International Inc. last year to focus on politics in Austria. He lashed out at its ruling coalition for running deficits, and said the problem is worsened by a government "full of corruption, and there's no transparency."

With a report from Agence France-Presse

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About the Author
Asia Bureau Chief

Nathan VanderKlippe is the Asia correspondent for The Globe and Mail. He was previously a print and television correspondent in Western Canada based in Calgary, Vancouver and Yellowknife, where he covered the energy industry, aboriginal issues and Canada’s north.He is the recipient of a National Magazine Award and a Best in Business award from the Society of American Business Editors and Writers. More

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