Jörg Haider in Carinthia (promotional photo)
The Austrian Freedom Party was founded in 1955, and initially held liberal political views. In 1970 Haider became the leader of the FPÖ youth movement. Haider rose rapidly through the party ranks, becoming party leader in 1986.
The Freedom Party attracted protest votes and those who desire no association with the other major parties. The party's mixture of populism and anti-establishment themes propagated by its aggressive leader steadily gained support over the years. It attracted about 27% of the vote in the 1999 elections.
Haider made a number of statements that seemed to imply support for the ideas of Nazism, and made a point of associating with and praising Waffen-SS veterans.
Haider on his way to a press conference
In 2000, Haider's Freedom Party and the People's Party joined to form a coalition government. This caused widespread outrage in Europe, and the other 14 member states of the European Union initiated diplomatic sanctions against Austria.
In 2001, Haider stepped down from the leadership of the Freedom Party. This was widely seen as a cynical move to appease foreign criticism, as he appeared to continue to control the party from behind the scenes, with Herbert Haupt, the current party chairman, a mere puppet.
In November 2002, general elections in Austria resulted in a landslide victory (42.27% of the vote) of the conservative People's Party led by Federal Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel. Haider's Freedom Party, which in 1999 was stronger than Schüssel's party, was reduced to 10.16% of the vote.
In response, Haider stated that he had demanded that the leader of the FPÖ must step down to allow him to be leader, and on being refused, stated that he would leave politics permanently. However, on August 31, 2003 he announced that he would run again for Governor of Carinthia in March 2004.
See also: Proporz