Euroskeptic tycoon passes first Austrian vote tests

VIENNA Sun Mar 3, 2013 2:30pm EST

Austrian-Canadian businessman and billionaire Frank Stronach of ''Team Stronach'' delivers a speech during his final election rally in St. Poelten March 1, 2013. REUTERS/Heinz-Peter Bader

Austrian-Canadian businessman and billionaire Frank Stronach of ''Team Stronach'' delivers a speech during his final election rally in St. Poelten March 1, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Heinz-Peter Bader

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VIENNA (Reuters) - A billionaire car parts tycoon who wants Austria to abandon the euro passed his first electoral tests on Sunday when his party - formed only last year - got a tenth of the vote to win seats in two state assemblies.

Frank Stronach, 80, who burst into Austrian politics with a call to bring back the schilling currency, could turn national elections due by September into a de facto referendum on the country's role in Europe.

He has said his party could get 20 to 30 percent of the national vote, although polls show it at 8-10 percent, behind the governing Social Democrats on about 28 percent and their conservative OVP coalition partners on around 25 percent.

The far-right opposition Freedom Party, also a critic of bailing out euro zone laggards or having taxpayers fund the zone's ESM rescue fund, gets over 20 percent in polls.

Initial projections showed Team Stronach winning 10 percent of the vote in Lower Austria, a conservative stronghold where the center-right OVP protected its absolute majority, a boost for party leader and Deputy Chancellor Michael Spindelegger.

Stronach's fledging party also took more than 11 percent in Carinthia, the southern province whose ruling Freedom Party - political heirs of populist Joerg Haider who died in 2008 - stumbled badly amid corruption scandals.

"To create a 10 percent party from scratch in just five months is a significant achievement and clearly shows how people are yearning for new policies that are transparent, honest and fair," Team Stronch parliamentary leader Robert Lugar said.

The center-left Social Democrats took first place in Carinthia for the first time since they lost power there in 1999, a result that gives Chancellor Werner Faymann a leg up.

Stronach, who emigrated to Canada as a 22-year-old pauper and made a fortune by building the Magna automotive supply empire, is seeking to tap growing bailout fatigue in wealthy northern European countries.

(Reporting by Michael Shields; Editing by Stephen Powell)

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