GRAZ, Austria – The far right Alliance for the Future of Austria (BZÖ) surprised pundits who said its appeal would wane without charismatic leader Joerg Haider, who died after a drunk driving crash in October.
On Sunday, the BZÖ won 45.5 percent of the vote in Carinthia, the rural province that Mr. Haider had made his personal political stronghold. For years, he had charmed locals with a blend of bonhomie, xenophobic rhetoric, and international media attention, which often hinted that he was a closet Nazi.
During Sunday's election, the party managed to improve its share of the vote by 3 percent, despite Haider's absence.
Haider's successor as governor is Gerhard Doerfler, a branch manager at a bank, who has a reputation for "earthiness." This impression was strengthened by a campaign in which he said it made sense to banish "asylum criminals" to remote holding centers because "protecting the population" is more important than human rights. He also told a racist joke to black German singer Roberto Blanco and pretended to suck the breast of a carnival caricature of a black woman. Haider's widow, Claudia, celebrated the victory by handing Doerfler a picture of her late husband and embracing him.