Author Topic: Austria:MergerOf RightwingPartiesMarred By CorruptionCharges #Hypo #cablegate  (Read 2367 times)

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Austria: Merger Of Rightwing Parties Marred By Corruption Charges
Origin   Embassy Vienna (Austria)
Cable time   Wed, 27 Jan 2010 11:29 UTC
References   09VIENNA1594, 10VIENNA63


E.O. 12958: N/A
REF: A) 09 VIENNA 1594
     B) VIENNA 63
VIENNA 00000099  001.2 OF 002
¶1. (U) Summary: Members of the Alliance for the Future of Austria's
(BZO) Carinthia branch voted overwhelmingly January 17 to join the
Freedom Party (FPO) in a national alliance, despite recent charges
of corruption and mismanagement against the leading proponent of the
accord.  Some BZO leaders opposed the alliance plan and now hope to
keep the party going at the national level, but it is unlikely to
survive in the long-run without control of its former stronghold of
Carinthia.  The FPO was hoping to get a political boost from the
merger, but has instead been tarnished by the scandals in Carinthia.
End summary.
BZO Rank and File Back Merger
¶2. (U) Delegates of the Carinthian BZO voted overwhelmingly in favor
of a partial merger with the FPO at a January 17 party caucus.
After the vote, opponents of the merger promised to re-found the BZO
in Carinthia.  The vote came in spite of recent corruption and
mismanagement charges against Uwe Scheuch, chairman of the Carinthia
BZO and leader of the merger effort.  Shortly before the convention,
the Austrian press broadcast portions of a recorded phone
conversation in which Scheuch promised to help a potential Russian
investor attain Austrian citizenship in exchange for a party
contribution.  Scheuch has admitted the conversation took place but
has denied wrongdoing, saying that the investment never materialized
and no money changed hands.  Prosecutors are investigating the
¶3. (U) The report followed previous mismanagement charges against
Scheuch and other Carinthian political figures in connection with
the scandal surrounding the Carinthia-based Hypo Alpe Adria bank
(reftel B).
¶4. (U) The merger is modeled on the CDU-CSU alliance in Germany,
with the Carinthian party called the Freedom Party of Carinthia
(FPK).  Three former BZO MPs from Carinthia have formed an informal
FPK caucus in parliament (reftel A) and will vote with the FPO.  It
is not clear whether enough (five) Carinthian MPs will switch sides
for the FPK to win formal caucus status.
Some Call for Early Election
¶5. (U) The split in the Carinthian BZO and the charges against
Scheuch have triggered calls for early elections in the state.  A
recent poll indicated that support for the breakaway FPK has dropped
from the 45 percent scored by the BZO to 25 percent in the wake of
the allegations against Scheuch.  The conservative People's Party
(OVP), the FPK's junior coalition partner in the state, could
pressure the FPK to hold early elections, but OVP leaders have yet
to decide on the matter.
BZO Unlikely to Last
¶6. (U) Scheuch's victory at the January 17 party meeting bolstered
the widespread view that the BZO will not long survive now that it
has lost control of its branch in Carinthia, which had been the
party's stronghold.  Joerg Haider, the immigrant-bashing populist
leader who died in a 2008 car wreck, founded the BZO in 2005 after
leaving the FPO.  Under Haider's leadership, the BZO garnered a
surprising 11 percent of the vote in the 2008 national elections.
But since Haider's death the party has fared miserably in provincial
elections outside of Carinthia.
¶7. (U) Nevertheless, Josef Bucher, leader of the national BZO,
appears determined to keep his downsized party going until the 2012
elections.  He still controls the majority of the BZO's 21 delegates
in the national parliament. Bucher has tried to re-brand the BZO by
avoiding harsh, FPO-style anti-immigrant rhetoric and adopting a
less socially conservative, more economically "liberal" (limited
government, pro-free market) platform.  However, the BZO is expected
to do poorly in three state elections in 2010 and seems unlikely to
emerge as a factor in 2012.
Comment: Not What Strache Hoped For
¶8. (SBU) FPO leader Heinz-Christian Strache was clearly hoping that
the merger with the Carinthia BZO would create an image of rightwing
unity that would bolster the FPO's standing for the Vienna elections
in October.  For now at least, the scandals surrounding Scheuch and
the resistance of some Carinthian BZO MPs to the merger have robbed
him of that victory.  Strache is now being accused of defending
Scheuch and other shady Carinthians, undermining his self-defined
image as an anti-corruption crusader.
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