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EDITIONS
Tuesday, 10 September, 2002, 15:22 GMT 16:22 UK
Austrian press finds a likely suspect
Susanne Riess-Passer and Wolfgang Schuessel at cabinet meeting
The coalition is still together - but only as a caretaker
The fall of Austria's Government after three ministers from the far-right Freedom Party resigned in a row with their ex-leader, Joerg Haider, dominates the country's newspapers.

But commentators differ on what this means for both the Freedom Party and its coalition with the conservative People's Party, and for the Social Democrats, who were forced into opposition in early 2000 after three unbroken decades in government.


For Joerg Haider, politics in general and his party in particular are, above all, an ego trip

Der Kurier

There is agreement on the villain of the piece: Mr Haider, who led the Freedom Party to election success but resigned from the party leadership soon after the coalition was formed.

An article in Der Kurier notes that by staging a revolt against party leader Susanne Riess-Passer, he has achieved the "extremely rare if not unique coup of deposing both his predecessor and his successor".

"For Joerg Haider", it says, "politics in general and his party in particular are, above all, an ego trip."

Doomed from the start?

Joerg Haider
Mr Haider is widely seen as villain of the piece
Die Presse sees significance in the fact that Mr Haider and his allies have gone to ground since precipitating this crisis - which is over government plans to postpone tax cuts to help finance the clean-up after recent floods.

The Freedom Party's only hope, it says, is that its "true" grass-roots will fight back at its conference in October, because increasing numbers of party members "appreciate that their only choice is between a moderate election defeat and a crushing one".

Der Standard believes the government was doomed from the start by the gulf between Ms Riess-Passer and Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel on the one hand, and Mr Haider's approach of "government and opposition at the same time" on the other.

For the Haider camp, it says, the tax issue was just "a prelude to the real drama" of opposition to EU enlargement.

What next?

There is widespread disagreement about the parties' election chances.

The Kurier commentary believes all bets are off - except that the Social Democrats have a good chance of returning to office, and the Freedom Party none at all.

It regrets the end of "an experiment that was necessary despite all the risks of the collapse that has now come to pass".


Rarely has Austria heard such honest and moving words when politicians resign

Die Presse
A change of course was essential after 30 years of Social Democratic rule, it says, and the fact that it could not be done without Mr Haider was "incredible bad luck" for both Austria and Mr Schuessel.

Die Presse has warm words for Ms Riess-Passer and the other resigning ministers, and it rates Mr Schuessel's prospects of returning to office more highly than those of his Social Democratic rival, Alfred Gusenbauer.

"Rarely has Austria heard such honest and moving words when politicians resign," it says.

Unless the Freedom Party stands up to Mr Haider at its conference, it continues, "Wolfgang Schuessel has fairly good chances by waging a 'choose-me-or-chaos' campaign against all the other parties".

Left or right?

Social Democratic leader Alfred Gusenbauer
Gusenbauer could be the winner in this crisis
It sees Mr Gusenbauer, on the other hand, as struggling against a major obstacle: his own party.

It believes the Social Democrats are still dominated by those who facilitated the Freedom Party's rise by blocking the renewal of their party's grand coalition with the People's Party nearly three years ago over economic reforms.

Referring to their 30-year tenure, it speaks of Social Democratic officials who "grew up with the idea of doing their main work in government offices".

This, it concludes, is "a luxury that only the next generation of Social Democratic MPs will be able to enjoy".

But Der Standard thinks it is Mr Schuessel who may now be finished.

He "knows he has his back to the wall", it says.

If the next government is a grand coalition, Der Standard goes on, Mr Schuessel is unlikely to be part of it, as he would not be able to face the "humiliation" of being deputy to a Social Democratic chancellor.

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

See also:

09 Sep 02 | Europe
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