Islam-bashing fails to boost support for Austria's rightists
( dpa ) - City council elections in the south-eastern Austrian city of Graz on Sunday failed to result in significant support for a local candidate for the far-right Freedom Party (FP) who had lashed out against Islam in a highly controversial campaign.
The top-seeded FP candidate Susanne Winter scored only moderate wins for the party just days after she called the Muslim prophet Mohammed a "child molester" and called for Islam to be pushed "back where it belonged, beyond the Mediterranean Sea.
Mohammed's marriage to a six-year-old girl would make the prophet a paedophile in today's system, the lawmaker had told a rally.
Voters in Graz, however, seemed only moderately impressed by Winter's Islam-bashing. Official results showed the FP gained 3.1 per cent, but remained below expectations with 11.1 per cent. Various polls had showed the party would score between 10 and 13 per cent.
Party leader Heinz-Christian Strache said the FP had reached their goal of getting into the double digits. Winter pursued her campaign "in the face of strong antagonism, defamation and scandalous threats of violence against her," he was quoted as saying by the Austrian press agency.
Winter's remarks were followed by a public outcry and triggered an intensive debate about Islamophobia in Austria. According to political analysts, the FP's anti-Muslim campaign was a calculated gambit to appeal both to a radically xenophobe fringe among Austria's electorate as well as those alienated by immigration.
The Islam-bashing turned out a "non-starter" for the rightists, with the conservative People's Party and the Greens benefiting instead, analyst Wolfgang Bachmayer told the public broadcaster ORF.
On Saturday, local newspapers carried ads by Winter issuing a quasi-apology for her remarks, describing these as "over the top". It had not been Winter's intention to "hurt people's religious feelings."
However, she also stressed that she wanted to point out wrongs like child abuse, forced marriage, violence against women or suppression of liberties with her criticism. Several death threats were issued against Winter, the FP said.
The People's Party defended its dominant position with 37.6 per cent, up 1.5 per cent from the 2003 elections. The Social Democrats lost 6.1 per cent, dropping from 25.9 per cent at 19.8 per cent.
The Green Party celebrated significant gains, shooting up 6.3 per cent to 14.6 per cent, thereby overtaking the local Communist Party as the third-strongest power in Graz. After skyrocketing to a sensational 20.75 per cent in 2003, the Communists lost 9.3 per cent, receiving 11.4 per cent of the vote.
The Freedom party came fifth, followed by Alliance for Austria's Future, another right-wing party, with 4.4 per cent. Preliminary official results did not include absentee ballots.