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Tuesday, 26 November, 2002, 15:24 GMT
The politician who cries wolf
Joerg Haider, after agreeing to stay as Carinthia governor
Joerg Haider: On his way back up?

Joerg Haider is not one to miss out on an opportunity for melodrama.

The diva of Austria's far-right Freedom Party kept reporters waiting for hours as he deliberated on whether to stay on as governor of the Carinthia region, following the party's crushing defeat in the general election.

In the early hours of the morning, the former party leader and star of the show was "persuaded by his friends" to withdraw his resignation and come back for an encore.

Thus ended Mr Haider's latest "retirement" from politics.

Toing and froing

Mr Haider's political career has become an increasingly predictable soap opera.

His governorship is one of the few posts he has not threatened to quit during his 16 years on the Austrian political scene.

It started back in 1988, when he threatened to resign, complaining that other party members were not pulling their weight - but stayed on.

Susanne Riess-Passer
Susanne Riess-Passer: Fell from grace
Four years later, he was at it again, warning he would withdraw from national politics as he took flak for standing by colleague Andreas Moelzer over controversial comments on immigration.

But he got his way - and stayed

In 1998, he said he would only stay on as party leader if his colleagues got back their "fire of enthusiasm" - and stayed.

Later that year he threatened to set up a breakaway party, but by January 1999 was back on board.

Will he, won't he?

The one and only resignation came at what should have been the pinnacle of his career - after the Freedom Party made sweeping gains in the 1999 elections and joined the People's Party in government.

After much criticism and European Union sanctions on Vienna, Mr Haider was kept out of the cabinet and stepped down as party leader, saying he did not want to be a "shadow chancellor".

Joerg Haider
Haider continued to pull the strings from Carinthia
He made way for Susanne Riess-Passer, described by one commentator as "his most loyal vassal".

He withdrew to his powerbase in Carinthia - but was still considered the power behind the throne, even when he withdrew from the coalition committee after a much-criticised trip to meet Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

But watching from afar, he became increasingly frustrated by the party's fading fortunes, as they lost their hold in a series of key elections.

Finally, he fell out with Ms Riess-Passer's leadership - she stood down and the governing coalition collapsed.

In the run-up to the early elections there was the almost farcical daily drama of will-he won't-he as Mr Haider shilly-shallied about the leadership - putting himself forward, then shying away and exposing in the process the bitter divisions in the party.

In the end it was Herbert Haupt who led the party into the poll - and presided over a miserable result.

Back to centre stage?

By the time Mr Haider announced his post-election resignation offer, few were ready to believe him.

Internet polls showed about 70% of respondents doubted the sincerity of his offer.

And they were right.

After throwing his regular tantrum, Mr Haider had inevitably been wheedled back to his place as Carinthia's governor, kicking and screaming he would have us believe.

Instead, it is the heads of Mr Haider's critics which are rolling.

As soon as he was back on board, letters were sent out to dissenters, expelling them from the party.

Perhaps they are just making some room for Mr Haider to come back to steal the limelight - once again.

See also:

26 Nov 02 | Europe
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25 Nov 02 | Europe
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