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Hungary: EU poll fears as far-right support rises

Gabor Vona, leader of Hungarys farright Jobbik party, which denies being racist. Picture: AFP/Getty Images

Gabor Vona, leader of Hungarys farright Jobbik party, which denies being racist. Picture: AFP/Getty Images

  • by RORY REYNOLDS
 

A FIFTH of Hungarian voters have backed an ­ultra-nationalist opposition party accused of anti-Semitism, election results showed yesterday, in what ­commentators said could be an indication of how other far-right groups will fare in the European elections next month.

Prime minister Viktor Orban and his populist Fidesz party have won another four years in power. Mr Orban, 50, has said his government has turned around a near-collapse of the economy in a crisis on a par with Greece; critics claim Hungary has pursued a series of highly unorthodox policies.

He has also clashed repeatedly with the European Union (EU) and foreign investors. After Sunday’s win, big businesses were bracing for another term of unpredictable and, for some of them, hostile measures. But many voters back Mr Orban, a former dissident against communist rule, as a champion of national interests.

Many benefited from a cut in income tax and household power bills under the centre-right Fidesz, which is allied with minor partner the Christian Democrats.

But teachers and civil servants live in fear of their jobs if they speak out against major reforms which have made their lives more difficult, say reports.

After 99 per cent of the ballots were counted from Sunday’s parliamentary vote, an official projection yesterday gave Fidesz 133 of 199 seats, guaranteeing it will form the next government.

That tally also gave Fidesz the two-thirds majority needed for it to change the constitution, but only by one seat – the final results could still push the party back below the threshold. The same projection also gave the Socialist-led leftist alliance 38 seats, while far-right Jobbik was on 23 seats.

“We have scored … a comprehensive victory, the significance of which we cannot yet fully grasp,” Mr Orban told a jubilant crowd at his party’s election headquarters.

Hardline nationalist Jobbik’s performance is being watched closely for clues about how other nationalist right-wing parties, such as France’s Front Nationale and the Netherlands’ Party for Freedom, will perform in European Parliament elections next month.

In terms of its share of the national vote on party lists, Jobbik won 20.54 per cent, up from 15.86 per cent of all votes four years ago.

Its showing was the strongest of any far-right party in the EU in the past few years, according to assistant professor Cas Mudde from the school for public and international affairs at the University of Georgia in the United States.

He said the previous strongest result for a far-right group was the 20.5 per cent won by Austria’s Freedom Party last year.

“There is no doubt that Jobbik will be among the strongest far-right parties in Europe, which is particularly striking because it is also one of the most extreme of Europe’s far-right parties,” Mr Mudde said.

Jobbik has pledged to create jobs, be tough on crime, renegotiate state debt and hold a referendum on EU membership.

It denies being racist, and has softened its tone according to some commentators, possibly to attract more mainstream voters.

But it provides a lightning rod for suspicion among some Hungarians towards the Roma people and to Jews.

Hungarian Gypsy Party chairman Aladar Horvath said: “As Jobbik gains, Fidesz is forced to defend its voter base and act tougher, but that toughness closes doors on us.”

Jobbik leader Gabor Vona, 35, often works shifts in minimum wage jobs – as a waiter or construction worker – to show he is in touch with ordinary people.

In the past four years, Mr Orban’s policies have included nationalisation of private pension funds, swingeing “crisis taxes” on big business, and a relief scheme for mortgage holders for which the banks, mostly foreign-owned, had to pay.

His policies helped Hungary emerge from recession, but some economists say he may have scared off the kind of investment Hungary needs for steady, long-term growth.

The election marked a new low point for the leftists, who were pushed out of office in 2010.

 

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