It all started when octogenarian Austro-Canadian businessman Frank Stronach, the leader of Team Stronach, a new eurosceptic party contesting Austria’s upcoming parliamentary elections, bared his chest over the weekend while talking to reporters from his lakeside home. But Heinz-Christian Strache (pictured above), the leader of the more established far-right Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs (FPÖ, Freedom Party of Austria), felt the need to show even more skin in an uncharacteristic race to the bottom.
Declaring himself at top fitness going into the campaign, Strache uploaded the photo to his Facebook page over the weekend as well, with his party poised to win nearly one-fifth of Austrian voters next month.
A July poll shows the Freedom Party winning around 19% of the vote to just 8% for Stronach’s new party, far behind Austria’s main center-left party, the Sozialdemokratische Partei Österreichs (SPÖ, Social Democratic Party of Austria) with 27% and Austria’s main center-right party, the Österreichische Volkspartei (ÖVP, Austrian People’s Party) with 24%. Austria is currently governed by a ‘grand coalition’ between the ÖVP and SPÖ under Social Democratic chancellor Werner Faymann.
While you shouldn’t hold your breath for Faymann to pose shirtless anytime soon, it’s not the first time that the Freedom Party has dipped into the homoerotic, with its former leader Jörg Haider, who had served over a decade as governor of Carinthia state, alleged to have been drinking in an gay bar shortly before the car crash that ended his life in October 2008:
His homoerotic lure was clear. I remember his 50th birthday celebrationsup a mountain near Villach. It was a most typical Haider affair. He was surrounded the entire day by an entourage of well-dressed, perma-tanned male supporters who looked like Haider clones. It is they who gave Haider’s BZÖ, and before that, his Freedom party (FPÖ), the euphemistic nickname of the “buberl partei” – the party of little boys. It is the undying loyalty of such figures, often referred to as the “briefcase carriers”, that helped Haider succeed for so long.
It will be the first Austrian election since Haider’s death, in fact, and while the party that he founded in 2005, the Bündnis Zukunft Österreich (BZÖ, Alliance for the Future of Austria), won 10.7% of the vote and 21 seats in the previous September 2008 elections, though polls show that the BZÖ’s electoral viability has collapsed in the wake of Haider’s death — it currently polls between just 2% and 3%. The BZÖ is unlikely to surpass the 4% threshold next month it needs to win seats in Austria’s unicameral Nationalrat (National Council).
The Freedom Party supported an ÖVP-led government under former prime minister Wolfgang Schüssel from 2000 to 2005, despite sanctions from the European Union due to the anti-immigration and other extremist views that the Freedom Party espoused under Haider. Haider left the party to start the BZÖ after an internal conflict within the Freedom Party, which then selected Strache as its leader and left Schüssel’s government (which continued onward in coalition with Haider and the BZÖ until 2007).