Hungary Radical Party Wins By-Election in Breakthrough Vote

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Jobbik President Gabor Vona
Gabor Vona, president of Jobbik party, talks about the party program in front of their party candidate Lajos Rig's poster in Ajka on April 9, 2015 during an electoral campaign meeting. Photographer: Attlia Kisbenedek/AFP/Getty Images

Hungary’s radical nationalist Jobbik party, which has surged in opinion polls in the past six months to close in on Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s Fidesz, won its first parliamentary district in a by-election.

Lajos Rig of Jobbik won the western district of Tapolca with 35.3 percent backing, according to results from the National Election Office on Sunday with 99.1 percent of the votes counted. The Fidesz candidate was second with 34.4 percent, followed by a challenger jointly backed by the opposition Socialist and Demokratikus Koalicio parties.

The win marks a breakthrough for Jobbik, which became the second-largest political party in Hungary after last year’s elections. It also underscores the growing unpopularity of Fidesz, which lost a by-election in February that cost the ruling party its two-thirds majority in parliament. Jobbik, criticized by human rights groups for its anti-Roma, anti-Semitic, pro-Russian and anti-European Union platform, is trying to tone down its rhetoric to woo mainstream voters to win power in 2018, party chief Gabor Vona told Magyar Nemzet newspaper last month.

“Jobbik’s success shows that a critical mass of voters no longer view the party as radical,” analysts at the Political Capital research institute in Budapest said in an e-mail. “There’s no limit to the party’s growth.”

Last April, Orban managed to retain his two-thirds majority and Jobbik failed to capture any of the 106 districts in parliamentary elections, winning instead a large share of party-list votes for its many second- and third-place finishes in districts.

Tide Turns

Since Orban’s re-election, Fidesz has plunged in polls as the government battled corruption allegations, faced street protests against a spate of new taxes and encountered criticism over an energy deal with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Jobbik is managing to lure disillusioned Fidesz voters, according to a report in the April 9 edition of HVG weekly, based on a Median poll. Median found that a fifth of Jobbik backers said they had voted for Fidesz last year.

Fidesz’s support fell to 24 percent among eligible voters in March from 36 percent a year ago. Jobbik was second with 15 percent and the Socialist Party came third with 11 percent, according to the poll.

Voters said “enough, they said no to Viktor Orban, no to Fidesz,” Vona said at a victory rally in Tapolca on Sunday, according to MTI state news service.

Super-Majority

In February, Orban’s candidate lost a by-election in the Veszprem district, which neighbors Tapolca. That district was won by an independent candidate backed by opposition parties excluding Jobbik. The loss cost Orban the super-majority on which he had relied since 2010 to pass major legislation, including a new constitution, over the objections of the opposition.

Jobbik seeks to preserve its “core values” while adopting a “measured, calm voice” to attract mainstream voters, MTI reported, citing Vona. The party leader said he would “prove wrong” those who think of Jobbik as an “extremist, Nazi party,” according to his March 28 Magyar Nemzet interview.

Few of the thousands of people who took part in the annual march to remember the Holocaust in Budapest on Sunday were convinced of the makeover of Jobbik, which on its website still calls for resisting “Zionist Israel’s quest for world domination,” starting debt restructuring talks, fighting the EU’s “colonial policies” and forging a closer alliance with Iran, Russia and Turkey.

“Today, the world sees Hungary and they see Jobbik,” Ronald S. Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress, told participants at the Holocaust memorial event. “And when businessmen want to invest in Hungary, they also see Jobbik and they’re afraid to come. Jobbik hurts Hungary. Do not allow a small percentage of the population to destroy Hungary.”

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