Stronach seen quitting Austrian politics next week

Fri Jan 17, 2014 7:48am EST
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VIENNA Jan 17 (Reuters) - Austrian-Canadian billionaire Frank Stronach is expected to quit Austria's parliament next week, 16 months after founding a party he hoped would reshape the political landscape.

His spokesman said Stronach, who splits his time between Canada and Austria for tax reasons, would visit the Alpine republic next week, although he could not confirm Austrian media reports that he planned to announce his resignation then.

"It won't be long before he gives up his mandate," said spokesman Rouven Ertlschweiger, a former regional newspaper editor who is set to take over Stronach's seat in parliament.

Long-time aide and deputy party leader Kathrin Nachbaur said Stronach would remain party chairman for now.

Stronach, 81, scored a disappointing 6 percent in national elections last September after an extravagant campaign in which he spent 11 million euros ($15 million) of his own money and rose as high as 10 percent in opinion polls.

The maverick politician who left Austria aged 21 to seek his fortune in Canada and founded car-parts firm Magna International had hoped to break the mould of centrist coalitions that has dominated post-war politics.

His unorthodox approach and promise to boost private enterprise initially appealed to many Austrians, particularly traditional non-voters fed up with big government and with an establishment that seemed elitist and remote.

But as the elections neared Stronach alienated supporters with embarrassing television appearances in which he warned of the danger of China's invading Austria, said he supported the death penalty for contract hit men and harangued his interviewers.

Still, the 11 parliamentary seats his Team Stronach party won helped push the Social Democrat and conservative People's Party coalition parties to their narrowest election victory ever, and dented support for the far-right Freedom Party.

Team Stronach began to fall apart soon after the elections, as infighting broke out after the poor result and Stronach fired multiple top officials. He has attended only two of eight sessions of the new parliament so far.

Stronach said in October he would step aside "sooner or later". He plans to remain an adviser to the party.