The far-right resurged in local elections in Vienna, the Austrian capital, securing the biggest gains in votes and mandates following a campaign laced with anti-Islamic rhetoric.
With only absentee ballots left to be counted, the anti-immigration Freedom Party won 27% and 28 seats in the regional parliament – up from 13.
That is a significant boost from the 14.8% they garnered during 2005 elections, and near their record high of 27.9%, achieved in 1996, when the late Jorg Haider was at the party’s helm.
“With a hand on my heart, I am deeply grateful for the confidence the Viennese have given me and I know what that responsibility means,” Freedom Party chief Heinz-Christian Strache said.
The Social Democrats took the lead with 44.2% of the vote – down from 49.1% in 2005. But with just 49 seats to call their own, down from 55, they lost their absolute majority and will now have to look for a coalition partner.
That comes as a significant blow to longtime mayor Michael Haeupl, who hoped his party would not have to share power.
“The voter is always right in a democracy and as a democrat I accept this result and now we have to keep working,” said a clearly crushed Mr Haeupl, who gave no indication he would resign over the outcome.
He said the Freedom Party had done a better job mobilising its supporters.
The centre-right People’s Party, meanwhile, also suffered big losses, dropping from 18.8% in 2005 to 13.2% or 13 seats.
It had previously held 18. The Greens placed fourth with 12.2%, or 10 seats, down from 14.6 five years ago. It lost four mandates.
Over the past few months, the Freedom Party tried to shore up support with campaign posters that mentioned Vienna blood – originally a waltz by Johann Strauss – which critics claimed had clear racist undertones in this political context.
The party also circulated a controversial comic strip that features a character resembling Mr Strache who urges a young boy to use his sling shot to hit Mustafa, who led the historic Turkish siege of Vienna in 1683.
In the end, the Freedom Party connected best with predominantly male and less educated voters aged 20 to 29 or above 60, according to the Vienna-based Institute for Social Research and Analysis.
The Social Democrats, for their part, tried to position 61-year-old Mr Haeupl, who has been mayor since 1994, as a strong captain who had proven capable of steering the city through difficult times.