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Stronach starts Austrian election campaign

Frank Stronach answers questions during a news conference in Vienna Sept. 27, 2012.

LEONHARD FOEGER/REUTERS

Eurosceptic auto-parts magnate Frank Stronach launched his Austrian election campaign on Thursday, presenting himself as an honest man of the people to a public tired of corrupt politicians and hungry for change.

Despite a lack of clear policies and confusion over his attitude to the crisis-hit euro, 40 per cent of Austrians already want to see Mr. Stronach's party – Team Stronach – in the next coalition government, according to a survey published in Der Standard newspaper.

"We need new ideas. We need new values. We can do it. We are the best," the Austro-Canadian self-made billionaire told a packed news conference, speaking German with an Anglo accent. "I am not a politician. We are a movement, an Austrian movement."

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Mr. Stronach, who is getting around 10-per-cent support in opinion polls before parliamentary elections next year, painted himself as a simple soul whose duty was to return from Canada, where he made his fortune, to help his native Austria.

"Austria is my homeland. My roots are here," said Mr. Stronach, who will head his party's ticket for seats in parliament.

Stressing his business acumen at a time of spreading economic malaise, he reiterated his call for giving each member of the euro zone its "own" currency whose value would fluctuate in line with its fiscal and financial strength.

"The German euro would be one to one, 100 cents. The Greek euro might be 40 cents, the Italian maybe 60 or 70, the Spanish too," he said.

"I believe the Austrian euro would also be one to one and if we were in government the Austrian euro would be stronger than the German, as long as (Chancellor Angela) Merkel remains in power."

He drew applause by saying Ms. Merkel was "either stupid or playing along with the banks. Either way it's no help to the German people."

Mr. Stronach, 80, left Austria for Canada after the Second World War and went on to found auto-parts company Magna International Inc., now one of Canada's biggest companies.

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Recent polls show that Mr. Stronach would be the first choice of around 10 per cent of Austrian voters, mainly at the expense of former supporters of the far-right Freedom Party and the alternative Pirate Party, which attracts a protest vote.

The paper said the typical Mr. Stronach voter was rural, male, middle-aged and with a low to middling level of education.

"There is a mood of great disappointment with the established parties in parliament, with the government as well as the opposition," political analyst Peter Filzmaier told Austrian radio.

"With the exception of the Greens they are all involved in scandals. A new party and Frank Stronach can gather up the votes of the disappointed."

Mr. Stronach burst onto Austria's political scene this year with a call to abandon the euro and return to the Austrian schilling, tapping growing fatigue in rich northern countries for bailing out euro-zone laggards like Greece, Portugal and Ireland.

On Thursday, he emphasized that as a child of war he was in favour of a united Europe to maintain peace on the continent, but would resist being dictated to by Brussels, Washington, Beijing, Moscow or anyone else.

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His campaign launch comes with Austria reeling from a series of high-level bribery and corruption scandals that have undermined trust in public officials.

Chancellor Werner Faymann, a Social Democrat, has skirted demands to appear before a parliamentary committee investigating corruption, including allegations he pressed state enterprises to advertise in friendly media when he was transport minister.

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