Freedom Party Loses Support in Austria

The anti-immigration Freedom Party lost support in provincial elections that appeared in part to reflect image problems of the right-wingers after less than a year in the federal government. The Freedom Party was at 12.65 percent, nearly two percentage points less than elections four years ago, according to unofficial final results from Sunday's elections in easternmost Burgenland. It was the party's second bad showing in recent months. The Freedom Party was trounced in elections Oct. 15 in Austria's southeastern Styria state, after a good showing there in earlier elections. The Burgenland vote was in part a rejection of the ''unsocial course of the federal government,'' said Social Democrat leader Alfred Gusenbauer, whose party gained 46.7 percent of the vote. ''The Freedom Party bet on fear.'' Austria's federal government is a coalition of the center-right People's Party and the Freedom Party, who rose to popularity under Joerg Haider over the past decade with a platform exploiting widespread mistrust of foreigners. Haider himself became internationally known with statements -- later withdrawn -- that praised some of the Nazi policies and backers of Adolf Hitler. The European Union reacted to the Freedom Party's inclusion in government in February by imposing sanctions that weren't lifted until September. The federal government's popularity appears to be shrinking, in part because of legislation resulting in reductions in social benefits. Additionally, the Freedom Party is being investigated for allegation of domestic spying on opponents using confidential data from police informers. The People's Party had 35.30 percent of the Burgenland vote, while the environmentalist Greens captured more than 5 percent, enough to clear the threshold for representation in the province's parliament for the first time, Associated Press reports.