Strache promises more anti-mosque action as Vienna set to vote

Freedom Party (FPÖ) boss Heinz-Christian Strache has vowed to press on with a referendum against possible new mosques in Vienna after Sunday’s city parliament election.The right-winger said today (Fri) he expected Social Democratic (SPÖ) Mayor Michael Häupl to step down if the SPÖ loses its absolute majority in seats in the upcoming ballot. Häupl has been mayor of the federal capital for 16 years. His party bagged 49.1 per cent in the 2005 ballot – enough for a majority in the city parliament.Referring to a referendum last February, Strache told Die Presse newspaper future referenda should focus on “other topics like whether people want a ban of the construction of mosques which feature minarets”.Around half a million of the 8.5 million people living in Austria and one in 10 Vienna residents are Muslims. One of the four mosques with distinctive minarets is located in Vienna. It was built in the 1970s. The FPÖ has warned of the “threat of Europe’s ‘Islamisation’”, while trying to win the support of Vienna’s Serbian community.Public opinion research agency Karmasin found last month 35 per cent of Austrians would appreciate the construction of additional mosques with minarets, while a majority of 52 per cent opposed the idea.A comic book the Viennese FPÖ sent to all households of the city recently caused outcry for linking the Second Turkish Occupation of Vienna in 1683 with contemporary issues. The publication portrays Häupl as an alcoholic coward who “doesn’t care whether the Turks settle here with their minarets, mosques.”Strache is the story’s hero who teams up with legendary military commander Prince of Savoy-Carignan Francois-Eugène (Prinz Eugen).Marketing businessman Harry Bergmann branded the comic “a severe case of sick inflammatory propaganda”, while the SPÖ reacted by creating their own comic book portraying Strache as a zombie.Strache claimed today Häupl had no problem with the SPÖ Vienna’s integration issues spokesman Omar Al Rawi becoming mayor. But speaking to Die Presse, the FPÖ leader claimed a “process of rethinking” within the Social Democrats as far as their policies towards his own party was “possible”.Strache, who became federal chief of the FPÖ five years ago, mentioned SPÖ Vienna housing councillor Michael Ludwig and federal SPÖ Labour Minister Rudolf Hundstorfer as personalities who could bring the permanently feuding parties closer together.Häupl has made clear on the campaign trail the SPÖ will not cooperate with the FPÖ in any way regardless of the outcome of the upcoming election. The mayor – considered as Austria’s most influential Social Democrat – accused the FPÖ of “creating hatred among people”.He said: “The vast majority of people know that the Social Democrats have the better integration concepts.”The SPÖ is in a difficult position ahead of the ballot. Most researchers forecast a slight loss of three to five per cent, while the FPÖ is expected to do well considering its mediocre result five years ago. The 2005 Vienna vote occurred just half a year after late FPÖ boss Jörg Haider founded the Alliance for the Future of Austria (BZÖ). While the BZÖ struggled ever since Haider died in 2008, the FPÖ recorded gains in most recent elections. The right-wing party managed to win the support of members of the Austrian working class and young people dissatisfied with their situation in the economic crisis.The FPÖ came third in the 2005 Vienna city parliament election with 14.8 per cent when it had the support of just 11 per cent of young voters. It reached 17.5 per cent in general elections three years later, up by 6.5 per cent. In this ballot, the party was found the most popular competitor among people aged 29 and younger with a share of 33 per cent.The Vienna vote comes just weeks after the FPÖ improved by 6.3 per cent to 10.9 per cent in the provincial elections of Styria. Federal SPÖ leaders were undecided when Styrian SPÖ Governor Franz Voves refused to rule out forming a coalition with the FPÖ. The right-wing party’s Styrian branch hit the headlines by presenting a free online game in which the player is asked to fire at mosques, minarets and muezzins.Voves recently started talks with the People’s Party (ÖVP) over a possible continuation of their coalition. Many analysts claimed he only did so to avoid being blamed for losses of the Social Democrats in Vienna this Sunday since Häupl strictly disassociated himself and his party from the FP֒s policies.Pollsters SORA found 23 per cent of men under 30 backed the FPÖ in the Styrian election – but only 15 per cent of all people participating in the vote said the debate about the party’s computer game was decisive for who they supported. A majority of 55 per cent named healthcare issues as their top priority.Campaigning of all parties in Vienna has also mostly been focusing on integration issues after the FPÖ seemed to have claimed the media focused most on its arguably xenophobic campaign in which it linked crime figures and “mass immigration”.The FPÖ has claimed the ruling SPÖ would do more for foreigners unwilling to integrate into society than for young Austrians and the unemployed. Strache branded the SPÖ an “Islamist party” which has acted arrogantly during the past five years.Häupl has campaigned in favour of a “safe city for everyone at daytime and night-time”, but also pointed out every citizen must stick to its “house rules”.The ÖVP (2005: 18.8 per cent) stressed every immigrant must be able to speak German and children must sit extra German lessons if they were unable to communicate – while the SPÖ argued such a model has happened for many years, adding that it would mostly function well.The Greens, who came fourth in 2005 with 14.6 per cent, stressed they were the only political group who clearly speak out against any kind of agitation and xenophobia.Polls have shown that 78 per cent of Turks living in Vienna back the SPÖ, while just two per cent of them support the FPÖ. The Social Democrats are also the most popular party among immigrants from former Yugoslavia with 56 per cent, followed by the FPÖ with 27 per cent.The majority of Vienna’s Polish community back the SPÖ (56 per cent), according to research, with the ÖVP in second with 24 per cent and the Greens in third (12 per cent).Immigrants are, however, not tipped to be the voters group deciding the election. It will rather have to be seen what the 39 per cent of the 1.44 million Vienna residents who are eligible to vote who stayed away from the polls five years ago will do this time around.Vienna, which has around 1.7 million residents, is the second-safest city in German-speaking Europe after Munich in Germany. Furthermore, the Austrian capital has made top positions several international quality of living studies.The 2010 Mercer’s Quality of Living Survey even ranked Vienna in first place ahead of the Swiss cities of Zurich and Geneva.Mercer Austria chief Josef Papousek commented the city’s victory as saying: “This result is mainly down to the city’s high safety level, the stable political circumstances and its functioning infrastructure.”The Viennese Economic Chamber (WKW), meanwhile, warned that Vienna was at risk of falling behind as far as spending power and other issues were concerned.WKW research revealed Vienna residents had an annual per capita spending power of 40,600 Euros, while residents of nearby Czech capital Prague had 42,800 Euros.Independent analysts also warned that excessive bureaucracy in the Austrian capital would keep many firms from settling in the city which is, nevertheless, regarded as the key gateway to operations in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE).