Disputed rightist wins top post in Austrian parliament
Graf is a member of a rightwing nationalist student union that has contacts with neo-Nazis and Holocaust deniers.
Vienna -- In a decision criticized by Austria's Jewish community and other organizations, far-right politician Martin Graf was voted into one of the top posts in Austria's parliament on Tuesday.
Although Graf is a member of a right-wing nationalist student union that has contacts with neo-Nazis and Holocaust deniers, 70 percent of the legislators supported him to become one of the two deputy presidents of parliament.
As the third strongest faction, Graf's Freedom Party had the traditional right to nominate one of their representatives for the post. His candidature was strongly opposed by the Green party.
Austrian lawmakers had "made a symbolic decision which can lead to a further strengthening of the right-wing extremist camp and which shows little sensibility for Austrian history and the tragic results of German nationalism," the Jewish Religious Community in Vienna said in a statement.
Although Graf recently issued a lengthy statement in which he condemned racism, anti-Semitism and "all crimes committed in the name of a misguided ideology," he said he would remain a member of the Olympia student union.
According to several reports, Olympia has invited extremist speakers and artists to its meetings such as the German musician Michael Mueller, who is infamous for a song making fun of the millions of Jews who died in the gas chambers of German concentration camps.
Like other members of his party, Graf has called into question Austria's law that bans neo-Nazi activities.
In the past weeks, former concentration camp inmates, Vienna's Jewish community, artists and other members of civil society had written several open letters to legislators, asking them not to vote for the rightwing politician, who has 10 years of experience as a lawmaker.
Graf was voted deputy president of parliament with the support of Austria's two far-right parties, the Freedom Party and the Alliance for the Future of Austria, as well as the mainstream conservative People's Party.
"I had hoped that critical political awareness would trump practice and tradition" of automatically awarding a vice-presidency to the third strongest party, said Brigitte Bailer-Galanda, the head of a research institute which monitors far-right groups.
Judging from the result of the vote, most Social Democrats did not support Graf, while the Green party favored rival candidate Alexander Van der Bellen.
The Freedom Party and the Alliance nearly doubled their voter support in the September elections to a combined 28 percent, but neither of them is likely to be included in the next government.