Magnate Stronach lays out anti-political agenda for Austria

Tue Apr 9, 2013 10:42am EDT

Related Topics

* Stronach exploits disenchantment with mainstream parties

* Promises parliamentary seats for ordinary citizens

* Party polling at 10 pct ahead of national elections

By Georgina Prodhan

VIENNA, April 9 (Reuters) - Austro-Canadian billionaire Frank Stronach on Tuesday promised to save Austria from career politicians if elected later this year, holding out the prospect of seats in parliament for ordinary citizens and more autonomy from the European Union.

Stronach said the chance to give the Alpine republic, the country of his birth, a new start convinced him to run for election instead of spending his retirement in leisure.

"This government is driving Austria into the ground," the 80-year-old told a news conference called to announce his party's platform for elections due to be held by late September.

"This is the first time in 50 years that people have the chance to vote for someone else," said Stronach, the founder of global car-parts firm Magna International.

Stronach is funding his presidential-style campaign from his own wealth, seeking to tap into many Austrians' disenchantment with the political mainstream long dominated by two big parties.

Dropping previous calls to split up the single euro currency, Stronach promised lower corporate taxes, less interference by the European Union and the election of ordinary citizens to a scaled-down parliament if elected.

Asked how he would convince his counterparts in other parties to legislate away their own jobs, Stronach replied: "We will convince the citizens!"

Stronach is running as candidate for chancellor but has ruled out joining a coalition government with any of the other parties, saying he wants to upset the Alpine republic's cosy political elite and corrupt business practices.

His maverick message has found fertile ground in Austria, which has been governed by revolving centrist coalitions of the conservative People's Party (OVP) and the centre-left Social Democrats (SPO) for most of the last seven decades.

The SPO gets around 27 percent support and the OVP 25 percent in national polls. Stronach gets around 10 percent.

MISTAKES

In regional elections last month, Team Stronach polled 10 percent in Lower Austria and 11 percent in the far-right Freedom Party heartland of Carinthia, despite the lack of a clear agenda beyond a mantra of "truth, transparency and fairness".

Stronach suffered a setback last week in Tyrol, however, where three parties applied to run in provincial elections on April 28 under the name "Team Stronach" - the official name of the billionaire's party.

One of the three withdrew its application but the regional election authority ruled in favour of the second - not Stronach's party, but another list of candidates led by an ex-local leader of the "real" Team Stronach.

Stronach said he would fly to Tyrol on Wednesday to try to resolve the situation. "We are a young organisation," he said. "Mistakes happen."

Stronach's party is mainly attracting votes from the Freedom Party, which still scores around 20 percent in national opinion polls but which is grappling with a falling-out between the national FPO and its sister FPK party in Carinthia.

Freedom Party leader Heinz-Christian Strache has emphasised the party's anti-immigration and anti-EU messages since the setback in the Carinthia election, where support collapsed to 17 percent from 45 percent four years ago.

Stronach, by contrast, sounded a more conciliatory note on Tuesday, saying he supported a strong EU - albeit with significant autonomy for member states - and favoured immigration for skilled workers to support the Austrian economy.

"We are not a protest party," he said. "We want to be realistically engaged."

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