- Strache seen as further to right than mentor Haider
- Weakened main party faces coalition dilemma
He mocks gay people; wants a ministry for the deportation of immigrants; says "Vienna must not become Istanbul"; hopes to repeal laws banning Nazi revivalism, and is pushing for a constitutional ban on the building of minarets. Heinz-Christian Strache, a former dental technician, is the new star of Austrian politics and the new poster boy of Europe's extreme right.
"I was never a neo-Nazi, and never will be," Strache has insisted. But when he sued the Vienna news weekly Profil for defamation, the court ruled that Strache could fairly be said to display "an affinity to national-socialist thinking".
Strache, 39, led his Freedom party to 18% of the vote in an early general election on Sunday. His former boss and mentor-turned-rival, Jörg Haider, single-handedly steered his breakaway far-right Movement for Austria's Future to 11% - meaning that almost one in three Austrians who voted opted for the extreme right.
"A unique case among the western democracies," said Profil yesterday as Viennese liberals reeled from the results of an election that put the far right comfortably ahead of the mainstream conservatives of the Austrian People's party and neck-and-neck with the Social Democrats, who narrowly won the election.
It will be very difficult for any party to muster a parliamentary majority. The only options are for the Social Democrats to invite Strache into government, or to form another "grand coalition" with the Christian Democrats. Such a coalition collapsed in June after 18 months in office, and another attempt could fire a bigger protest vote for Strache next time.
The Freedom party last stunned Europe in 1999, when Haider led it to second place with 27% of the vote, and a place in government. On Sunday, under Strache, the combined far right did even better, while the big parties did much worse.
Strache has been heavily involved in extreme-right politics since his youth, when he was engaged to the daughter of one of the founders of the Austrian branch of Germany's neo-Nazi National Democratic party. He became a city councillor in Vienna in the early 1990s, imitating the populist techniques of Haider: snappy dressing, outrageous soundbites and populist tub-thumping; he was quick-witted and entertaining.
By 2005 the Austrian far right was at a low ebb. The leader quit, formed a breakaway party, and in effect retired to run the province of Carinthia - before staging a comeback on Sunday. But it was Strache who took over the Freedom party and led it to an improbable success, taking 15% of the vote in Vienna's 2005 local elections . In the following year's general election, he mustered 11%, and then 18% on Sunday.
He is widely seen as more aggressive and more rightwing than Haider, and likes to bash Brussels (an easy option in a country that registers just 28% support for the EU), inveigh against Islam, and take a loud and proud anti-immigration stand.
Strache calls himself a true patriot, declaring his ambition to be chancellor or interior minister. He hopes to fashion a coalition with Flemish separatists, France's National Front, Bulgarian extreme nationalists and anyone else who will join in a "European Patriotic party".
"Thirty percent for people who portray national socialism as innocuous," wrote the commentator Hans Rauscher yesterday, "Who crawl around in forests with neo-Nazi mates, who are surrounded by skinheads; who campaign against foreigners; make common cause with the European extreme right; toy with antisemitism; campaign against Muslims, and develop contacts with the Serbian Radical party whose leader, Vojislav Seselj, is in the dock at the war crimes tribunal in The Hague. Austria is tops in Europe again."