Hungary’s Orban Revives Debate on Death Penalty After Murder

Hungary should have a debate about the introduction of the death penalty, Prime Minister Viktor Orban said, echoing the radical nationalist Jobbik party whose popularity has surged at the expense of Orban’s Fidesz.

Hungary should “keep the death penalty on the agenda” as life sentences and the introduction of a “three-strikes” rule are proving to be insufficient deterrents, Orban told a news conference on Tuesday. He was responding to a question about the April 22 murder of a tobacco shop saleswoman, which local media covered extensively.

Orban’s embrace of a debate about capital punishment, which is illegal in the 28-member European Union, is the latest move embracing some of Jobbik’s agenda to arrest its momentum, according to analyst Attila Juhasz of Political Capital. The premier has also advocated the use of the military to control immigration and denounced what he described as attempts by the EU’s executive in Brussels to “colonize” Hungary.

“These sorts of moves are counter-productive because they only legitimize Jobbik’s agenda for the mainstream,” Juhasz, a Budapest-based analyst at the research institute, said by phone. “Orban is latching on to an issue most Hungarians may support and hoping that this will boost his party’s popularity.”

Support for Orban’s party has declined since it won its second two-thirds parliamentary majority in four years and triumphed in municipal and European Parliament elections last year. Fidesz has slid in polls as the government battled corruption allegations, faced street protests against a spate of new taxes and endured criticism over an energy deal with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Jobbik Surge

Jobbik, which is trying to shed its neo-Nazi image among voters, has been the main beneficiary from Fidesz’s weaker poll results. Jobbik won a by-election for a parliamentary seat on April 12, the party’s first outright win in a constituency.

A day after, Gabor Vona, Jobbik’s leader, said the result vindicated his attempt to move the party toward the mainstream. The shift, trying to distance the group from earlier anti-Semitic and anti-Roma remarks by its lawmakers, placed it on track to be the main challenger of Orban’s Fidesz in 2018 elections, according to Vona.

Orban, who’s argued that he’s the best bulwark against Jobbik gaining power, has chosen to integrate Jobbik’s proposals in his rhetoric, including most recently by launching a “national consultation” to promote the government’s campaign against economic migrants who “abuse” European asylum rules.

Since 2010, Jobbik proposals that became policy under Orban have included the nationalization of mandatory private pension funds, forcing losses on the banking industry to pay for the costs of foreign-currency lending and drawing the country closer to eastern governments such as Russia and Turkey. Orban also openly challenged the EU’s embrace of liberal democracy.

“Soon the roles between Fidesz and Jobbik will be interchangeable,” Juhasz said. “Jobbik is heading toward the center while Fidesz is going toward the fringe.”

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