Jörg Haider -- possibly Austria's best-known politician, apart from Arnold Schwarzenegger -- has been selected as a candidate for chancellor of Austria by a small far-right party he co-founded in 2005. The Alliance for the Future of Austria (Bündnis Zukunft Österreich, or BZÖ), put an end to rumors on Thursday and confirmed his candidacy in the national election on September 28.
He has no chance of actually winning as chancellor, but Haider said running was his "patriotic duty." At the same time he promised to continue as governor of the province of Carinthia, in southern Austria, rather than serve in the federal parliament. The contradictory comments gave a clue to his strategy and roused the sarcasm of his critics.
Haider has been a reliably outrageous voice in Austrian politics for years. During a 1991 campaign he criticized the ruling party, saying "in the Third Reich at least they had orderly policies of job-creation, which is something your government hasn't quite managed. Someone at least has to say that."
His small breakaway party, the BZÖ, managed to leap a 4-percent hurdle to win seats in Austria's national parliament in 2006. If it repeats that showing this fall, Haider might be expected to lead the party faction and be active in national politics for the first time since 2000. The fact that he's denied any desire to do so implies that he expects a brighter future in Carinthia than in Vienna.
"How credible is a national candidate who doesn't want to serve in the national parliament?" said Hannes Missethon, general secretary of the center-right Austrian People's Party, one of the nation's biggest parties. "How serious is someone who says he wants to remain a provincial governor and yet assume responsibility in the federal government?"
A commentator for Kurier, a leading Austrian paper, wrote on Thursday, "It's a matter of holding on to power. The national candidacy will help him maintain his bastion in the south."
Haider faces an election in Carinthia next spring, where he's promised to run again for governor.
"With Haider, the BZÖ -- which is all but nonexistent outside Carinthia -- has a chance to keep its seats in Vienna," wrote Kurier. "And Haider, with his new candidacy, has essentially kicked off election season for next spring's vote in his home state."
Haider rose to prominence as the leader of another populist right-wing party, the Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ), in 1999 when the party won 27 percent of the national vote and 52 seats, enabling it to forge a coalition with Social Democrats. Because of his xenophobic speeches and his rhetorical support for Hitler, the European Union imposed economic sanctions on Austria after he entered government. It was the first time the EU had imposed sanctions on a member state.
After several tumultuous months, in early 2000, he stepped down as leader of the FPÖ -- effectively ending his national career. He's been governor of Carinthia since 2004.