A new Beginning under HC Strache
On 4 April 2005, the FPÖ leadership left the party and founded the movement “Alliance for the Future of Austria“ (BZÖ). The leading light of this movement was Jörg Haider. He was able to persuade the entire team of FPÖ cabinet and junior ministers then serving in the ÖVP-FPÖ coalition, as well as numerous members of the FPÖ parliamentary caucus, to join the BZÖ. Almost all political observers therefore viewed the Freedom Party’s future prospects as slim, and some commentators even predicted an end to the Third Lager as it had previously existed. For the FPÖ was now able to rely on only two National Council members who professed a clear commitment to the party’s line. In addition, there was Andreas Mölzer, who held a seat in the European Parliament. Moreover, the party was faced with a huge mountain of debt. Nevertheless, the party grassroots had by and large not opted to join the BZÖ. With the exception of Carinthia, the Freedom Party’s provincial branches had all remained with the FPÖ. Even in Upper Austria and Vorarlberg, it proved possible to persuade the provincial party organisations to remain in the Freedom Party family. On 23 April 2005, Heinz-Christian Strache was elected Federal Party Chairman of the FPÖ with 90.1 per cent of the vote of the delegates assembled in Salzburg for the FPÖ’s 27th Ordinary Federal Party Congress. The then 35-year-old leader of the Viennese provincial party had long been regarded as a promising future prospect for the FPÖ. The intention was for the FPÖ to make headway as an edgy opposition party, emphasising topical issues such as the preservation of Austria’s “Leitkultur” (core culture). The new Chairman was to be assisted by a seasoned team comprising two FPÖ Secretaries-General: Herbert Kickl and Harald Vilimsky. Marketing was optimised by creating the brand of “HC“ and attaching that to the new leader, with a view to thereby enabling the party to also reach younger members of the public. The first sign of life for the FPÖ with Heinz-Christian Strache at the helm came as soon as the Vienna state and municipal elections of 23 October 2005. The FPÖ achieved 14.83 per cent of the vote, which placed it third, behind the SPÖ and the ÖVP.
At the federal level, the party also consolidated its position. The first occasion at which Strache assumed the role of nationwide lead party candidate (“Spitzenkandidat”) was at the National Council election of 1 October 2006. The FPÖ achieved 11.04 per cent of the vote, while the BZÖ just managed to scrape into Parliament, on merely 4.11 per cent. The FPÖ had thus proven itself to be the more successful part of the Third Lager “divorce”. What was to follow was an almost identical repeat under Heinz-Christian Strache of the FPÖ’s earlier rise under Haider. At the National Council election of 28 September 2008, the party already scored 17.54 per cent of the vote. It is true that at this election, the BZÖ achieved more than 10 per cent and was thus able to overtake the Greens. Yet the unexpected death of Jörg Haider on 11 October 2008 put an abrupt end to speculation about cooperation between the FPÖ and the BZÖ and ultimately sealed the political fate of the BZÖ. Overall, the FPÖ under Heinz-Christian Strache was characterised by a return to Freedom Party values. This was also reflected in the party‘s programme. For example, in the new party programme, which was adopted in Graz in 2011, there was a renewed commitment to the German cultural community.
The Freedom Party gained considerable support among the Austrian population as a result of the mass influx of asylum seekers in the summer of 2015. According to many opinion polls, the FPÖ was the country’s strongest party. At the National Council election of 15 October 2017, it won almost 26 per cent of the vote and obtained 51 seats, which enabled it to close the gap to the ÖVP and SPÖ. The ÖVP‘s election victory and the Freedom Party‘ s remarkable result led to the formation of a centre-right government made up of the ÖVP and FPÖ. Heinz-Christian Strache became Vice-Chancellor in this “turquoise-blue” ÖVP-FPÖ coalition led by ÖVP Chancellor Sebastian Kurz. The FPÖ had risen anew and, as in the year 2000, the culmination of its recovery was again crowned by entry into the federal government.