New Austrian anti-lockdown party seeking more seats after election coup

FILE PHOTO: Chairs and tables line up in front of a cafe during preparations for the reopening of restaurants as part of an easing of the country's lockdown restrictions amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Vienna, Austria May 18, 2021. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger/File Photo

VIENNA (Reuters) - A new Austrian political party that opposes lockdowns, compulsory mask-wearing and other coronavirus restrictions hopes to spread across the country after surprisingly securing seats in one of Austria's nine provincial parliaments on Sunday.

People Freedom Fundamental Rights (MFG), a newly created party that campaigned online and with a tour of bars and restaurants, stunned many observers by securing 6.2% of the vote in Upper Austria's election on Sunday, above the 4% threshold required to enter the provincial parliament.

The province of Upper Austria, home to Linz, the country's third-biggest city, and bordering Germany and the Czech Republic, is home to much of Austria's heavy industry.

It is also a stronghold of the far-right Freedom Party (FPO) and has the lowest coronavirus vaccination rate in Austria with 55.5% of people fully inoculated, versus 60.3% nationally.

"We will run in Salzburg, we will run in Carinthia, we will run in the national parliamentary election," MFG leader Markus Brunner, a lawyer who has challenged the constitutionality of coronavirus restrictions in the courts, told ORF radio, referring to future provincial and federal ballots.

None of those are, however, due to be held until 2023, by which time many hope the pandemic will have ended.

MFG's manifesto stops short of opposing COVID-19 vaccinations but says it is for an "absolute freedom to choose" and against the unvaccinated being disadvantaged.

Its success was all the more surprising since the FPO has taken a similar stance on restrictions and vaccines, though it is part of the Upper Austrian provincial government that has overseen coronavirus restrictions.

While the FPO's share of the vote fell more than 10 points to 19.8%, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz's conservatives retained first place, rising by 1 percentage point to 37.6%. The Social Democrats came third with a barely changed 18.6%. Data from pollster SORA showed MFG gained voters from various parties.

(Reporting by Francois Murphy; Editing by Alison Williams)

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