The Freedom Party (FPÖ) has long positioned itself as a political "defender of tradition" in Austria. The far-right populists are credited with shifting Austrian politics to the right with a host of actions and demands including:
- Party leader Hans-Christian Strache demanding an end to immigration to the country of 8.7 million, a position that appears to resonate with a broad swathe of Austrians, who took in tens of thousands of asylum-seekers during the European refugee crisis of 2015.
- Strache likening the failed coup in Turkey and subsequent purges to the burning of the Reichstag in Nazi Germany.
- The party following a euroskeptic course and aligning itself closely with Germany's Alternative for Germany and Marine Le Pen's Front National.
Founded in 1955, the FPÖ looked like a European-style liberal party, but under the leadership of the late Jörg Haider it evolved into a far-right, populist party. The flamboyant Harley Davidson motorcycle fan led the FPÖ into its first Austrian government coalition alongside the center-right People's Party (ÖVP) in 2000.
Austria was briefly sanctioned by the EU for allowing the extremists into the government, and the coalition eventually ended in ignominy as the FPÖ grappled with having to give up its anti-establishment role. But the time in government did help put an end to the FPÖ's pariah status — at least in Austria.
Last year Freedom Party candidate Norbert Hofer won the first round of voting for the Austrian presidency, an important if mainly ceremonial position. He lost to another outsider, independent candidate Alexander van Bellen, by eight percentage points, close enough to what would have been a historic victory for the FPÖ in a national election.
2017 election forecast
Pollsters say the People's Party will win the October 15 general election comfortably, while the Freedom Party could do just as well as the center-left Social Democrats, which have traditionally seen the People Party's as their main rival.
ÖVP leader Sebastian Kurz has indicated he would form a government with the FPÖ, but made clear that the party would have to give up on the idea of Austria leaving the EU. Strache and Co. have been careful to moderate their tone to avoid jeopardizing their possibilities.