The Freedom Party on a new Track
The political aftershocks triggered by the “Ibiza Affair” and the resignation of FPÖ Chairman Heinz-Christian Strache marked a turning point in the history of the Third Lager. For the FPÖ, they meant above all a change of personnel at the top of the party, which had experienced fourteen years of leadership continuity. As early as 19 May 2019, Norbert Hofer was designated the new party leader and in September 2019, he was in Graz officially elected as the new FPÖ Federal Party Chairman. Norbert Hofer - who had been Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Technology in the 2017-2019 ÖVP-FPÖ federal government - also stood as the FPÖ’s lead candidate at the National Council election held in the autumn of 2019. The former FPÖ Minister of the Interior, Herbert Kickl, filled the second spot on the FPÖ’s federal election candidate list. The aim of this “dual leadership” was both to appeal to different segments of the electorate and to campaign for a continuation of the turquoise-blue government coalition. Yet at the National Council election of 29 September 2019, the FPÖ obtained only 16.71 per cent of the vote, whilst the vote share of the ÖVP, led by the former Federal Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, grew to over 37 per cent. Following a round of exploratory talks about forming a new government, the FPÖ emphasised that the Freedom Party’s election result could not be interpreted as a mandate to govern. Moreover, the FPÖ stated that it wished to concentrate on its internal renewal. On 23 October 2019, the newly- elected National Council finally met for its constitutive session. This was also the occasion for a change in direction within the FPÖ. Herbert Kickl became the new Chair of the parliamentary party and Norbert Hofer was again re-elected by a clear majority to the position of Third President of the National Council.
In view of the Corona pandemic, which was rampant in Austria from March 2020, the FPÖ succeeded in resuming its role as an assertive opposition parliamentary party and in reestablishing its position in the opinion polls. Under the leadership of Parliamentary Party Chairman Herbert Kickl, it opted for a hard line against the policies and measures which the turquoise- green federal government adopted to combat the Corona crisis. In light of growing numbers of asylum seekers, the FPÖ simultaneously called for a stricter approach to migration policy.
On 1 June 2021, having served as FPÖ Chairman for two years, Norbert Hofer announced his resignation from that position. In addition, he stated his intention to remain Third President of the National Council. On 7 June 2021, the Freedom Party Executive Committee designated FPÖ Parliamentary Party Chairman Herbert Kickl to be the new leader of the party. On 19 June 2021, at an Extraordinary Party Conference held in the Lower Austrian city of Wiener Neustadt, Kickl was formally elected the new Federal Party Chairman. He was elected to that position by the votes of 88.24 percent of conference delegates. The former General Secretary had advanced to the top of the FPÖ, where he signalled a sharpening of the party’s policy profile, as well as a continuation of its success story.