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Austria: ‘FPÖ has to go back to its core values’

In an exclusive interview with FWM, the Austrian journalist and media consultant Stefan Magnet elaborated on Austria's national elections and the losses of the FPÖ.

Published: October 1, 2019, 9:11 am

    Mr. Magnet, the FPÖ suffered huge losses in the recent national elections in Austria. What are the reasons: The so-called “Ibiza scandal”, suspicions that former party leader Heinz-Christian Strache allegedly embezzled party funds – or are there additional reasons?

    Stefan Magnet. FWM

    Magnet: Of course the scandals about the supposed graft scheme which were covered in all the media outlets right before the elections played a big role in this bad result. The FPÖ has not managed to keep intact their image of an “anti-establishment-party”.

    The media campaign against the FPÖ was working on steroids: Mainstream media ignored the scandals of the other parties while attacking the Freedom Party in full force. It is not just Strache who loved the luxury life at the expense of his party, it is very common also in other Austrian parties. But this is the point: The FPÖ is not a “common” party, they are challenging exactly that type of system. A lot of former voters of the FPÖ were disappointed precisely because of that.

    Former party leader Strache is made to be the scapegoat for the losses of the FPÖ by some party officials and Austrian media. Is that a realistic analysis?

    Magnet: To blame one single person for a loss of ten percent in the election would be wrong. And we should be very careful not to do so. Until now Strache has rejected all accusations of abusing party money for personal expenses. So we have to wait until we get the true facts on the table. If the accusations are reasonable, then the party and Strache will have to face the consequences. But we shouldn’t forget: With former party leader Jörg Haider too, the media was always busy spreading corruption rumors which turned out to be false in the end. Unfortunately this [kind of] media strategy is often very successful.

    Why?

    Magnet: If an anti globalist political party presents itself as an opponent to the recent political system – then this party may not become a part of that system. The electorate doesn’t forgive hypocrisies.

    Recent party leader Norbert Hofer represents a moderate political line of the FPÖ. The former very popular inner minister Herbert Kickl stands for a more rightwing populist course. Was the bad election result also a sign that the electorate wants a more rightwing populist FPÖ?

    Magnet: I think that the “double top” Hofer and Kickl was a good strategy. Hofer appealed to the more moderate electorate while Kickl addressed the core electorate of the FPÖ. We shouldn’t ignore that until two weeks before the elections the FPÖ reached more than 20 percent in all polls. After the media campaign started, it changed for the worse. Even Austrian media, which were neutral or positive towards the FPÖ in the past, were all of the sudden joining this campaign. So I don’t agree that the bad election result has to do with the leadership, but with the massive media campaign against the party and the lack of time to react against this campaign appropriately.

    Does the FPÖ need a sort of “renewal” as many party officials have said after the elections?

    Magnet: Let me say it like that: Those who don’t see the absolute necessity for change after such a loss does not understand what really happened.

    What could such a “renewal” entail?

    Magnet: One day after the elections we can already say: The party has to think about its relationship with the media. It is strongly recommended that the FPÖ invest more energy in building up their own media, especially also in the social media sphere.

    It is naïve to believe that the mainstream media would one day change its stance towards the party. The events of the last days and weeks should be a painful reminder for everyone who believed that the mainstream media would be fair with the FPÖ.

    There is the need to build up their own media and to support alternative media. Only with such a media strategy will the FPÖ be capable in future to react against such mud-slinging campaigns.

    Another important point is of an ideological nature: The party has to remember its own core values and communicate these values. Apart from the important topic of migration, the anti-globalist line is also an important core value. And the FPÖ is of course an anti-establishment party. And exactly this means not being as corrupt as the mainstream parties in Austria.

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