RPT - REVIEW - Austria's Fallen FPO Leader Strache Tries Comeback

BRUSSELS (Pakistan Point News / Sputnik - 29th February, 2020) Austria's disgraced former vice chancellor and leader of the Freedom Party (FPO), Heinz-Christian Strache, has announced this week he is returning to politics to run in the October election in Vienna.

It is a comeback on tiptoe that is bound to create turmoil within the Austrian far-right. Strache remains popular among FPO hard-core supporters despite a video sting scandal that toppled the national government last year.

His popularity in Vienna will help his newly founded Alliance for Austria (DAO) take on the capital's governing red-green union, while siphoning off votes from his erstwhile FPO partners.

Strache's FPO won over 30 percent of the vote in the Vienna City Council polls in 2015. While he is unlikely to repeat that result after what media called Ibizagate, the prospect of Strache's return at the helm of a dissident FPO group is a blow to his former party.

The 50-year-old resigned in May after a video of him discussing shady contracts with a woman posing as a niece of a Russian oligarch made international headlines. The meetings over drinks at a rented Ibiza villa forced Strache's conservative allies and his own party to disavow him.

Strache apologized for his "typical alcohol-infused macho behavior" but denied receiving any donations from foreign facilitators. He also declared he wanted to quit politics for the good of his family.

"His statements were stupid and untenable. He covered himself in ridicule. You just don't talk stupidly like that to strangers when you represent one of the big Austrian conservative parties. Not even drunk, on vacation," a Belgian lawmaker with the right-wing VB party told Sputnik.

In the end, the scandal hurt Strache more than FPO, which went on to win 17.5 percent of the vote in the September elections, down 2 percent from the previous polls. Sebastian Kurz of the People's Party was sworn back in January as chancellor and leader of the conservative-green alliance.

The question of who set Strache up remains open. Kurz called the sting operation a "dirty campaign" and pointed the finger of blame at Austrian socialists, whose political adviser Tal Silberstein is known to have used similar tactics before.

Many clues lead to Jan Boehmermann, a German comedy star who did a sketch a month before the video was released by German media. In the skit, the vocally anti far-right satirist spoofed Strache and alluded to a meeting at a villa of a Russian tycoon in Ibiza.

Jerome Segal, a French expert on the far-right and former assistant at the University of Vienna, suggested a third scenario in which Russia "punished Strache for not having delivered, while having received large sums of money." Russia has denied giving money to foreign political parties.