Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 1 October 2014

Election rivals strip off for votes

Heinz-Christian Strache poses in his swimming trunkis (AP)
Russia's Vladimir Putin was a pioneer in the kit-off election stakes (AP)

Austria's general election campaign is heating up with two male contenders posing with their shirts off in an attempt to woo voters.

Borrowing an idea from Russian president Vladimir Putin, the displays are the latest twist in the rivalry between populist candidate Frank Stronach and Heinz-Christian Strache, head of the anti-immigrant and EU-sceptic Freedom Party who are both seeking the protest vote in the September 29 election.

Mr Stronach was first to strip off. Wearing jeans and a smile, he revealed a trim 80-year-old upper body as he stood next to his private lake during weekend interviews with Austrian newspapers. "I don't need to be ashamed of my body," he said.

Mr Strache responded immediately. A photo of the tanned and athletic 42-year-old clad in swimming trunks appeared on his Facebook page, with the caption "top fit in the election campaign!"

The bare-chest battle went into round two with Austria's major newspapers carrying both photos - along with articles debating whether such displays constituted below-the-belt campaigning.

Commenting on the "naked duel," the tabloid Oesterreich praised Mr Stronach for "showing the new self-confidence of the generation '60 plus.' In politics. In fitness. In looks." At the same time, it warned that Mr Strache's decision to challenge the gambit "with his fitness-centre muscles" now risks turning the campaign into a circus.

The rivalry started when Mr Stronach founded his "Team Stronach" organization last year. It aims for the same voters that Mr Strache's Freedom Party views as its own - Austrians disenchanted with both the conservative People's Party and the Socialists, parties that now form the government coalition. While differing on some issues, both parties are campaigning on the need for change.

Experts are still debating on whether the show of skin will help or hurt the two men but Austria's other parties are content for now to flex only their political muscles.

Andreas Schieder, a leading Socialist official, urged both men to focus on the politics of "naked facts, instead of naked upper bodies."

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