OCTOBER 28 2008 16:44h

Disputed Far-Right Austrian Gets Key Assembly Post

Newly elected third president of the Austrian parliament Graf talks to president Prammer during the parliament`s opening session following general elections in Vienna




Prammer, Spindelegger and Graf must now cooperate with each other in parliament despite major political differences.

An Austrian politician with links to a right-wing nationalist fraternity that has acted as a platform for Holocaust deniers was elected as a deputy speaker of parliament on Tuesday.

Martin Graf, 48, a long-standing member of the Vienna-based Olympia group, was backed by 109 out of 156 votes, defeating a Greens rival to become one of two deputy parliament speakers.

Graf won the post largely due to the fact that his far-right Freedom Party replaced the Greens as Austria's No. 3 party in the Sept. 28 parliamentary election.

The far right, including a smaller splinter party, combined for a record 28 percent of the vote. But the next government is still expected to be another centrist coalition of the Social Democrats and the conservative Peoples Party.

Barbara Prammer, a Social Democrat whose party remained the largest in parliament, was re-elected as primary speaker and centrist conservative Michael Spindelegger as the other deputy.

Prammer, Spindelegger and Graf must now cooperate with each other in parliament despite major political differences.

Graf will help prepare Austria's parliamentary budget, draw up the order of business in parliament and chair discussions. Like the other two speakers, he is responsible for parliament's external relations.

Freedom Party leader Heinz-Christian Strache said Graf's elevation was "a victory for democracy" and called him an seasoned, "irreproachable parliamentarian" who had successfully chaired a commission in the previous assembly that probed a banking scandal. Graf has been a lawmaker for 14 years.

Greens leader Eva Glawischnig said Graf was unsuitable for speaker responsibilities because the Olympia fraternity was known for taking right-wing extremist and anti-Semitic stances. She said she was concerned about adverse international reaction.

Freedom Party members have called into question an Austrian law that prohibits neo-Nazi activities, and Graf refused calls to resign from Olympia before the speakers' vote.

He has also said he is committed to democratic values and did not agree with all the views aired in his fraternity.