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Apr 9, 2014 | 10:03 GMT

Hungary's Far Right Gains Ground in Elections

Hungary's Far Right Gains Ground in Elections
(ETER KOHALMI/AFP/Getty Images)
Summary

The strong performance of Hungary's far-right Jobbik party in the country's April 6 parliamentary elections presents a challenge both for the ruling Fidesz party and for the European Union. Jobbik's popularity puts pressure on Fidesz to appeal more to far-right constituencies, and the rise of a viable Central European far-right political party will test the willingness of other European countries to continue sidelining extreme-right groups as illegitimate political actors. 

However, despite the party's popularity in Hungary, European governments, as well as other far-right parties, will continue to isolate Jobbik, and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban's government will be forced to balance domestic pressure to offer concessions to the far-right with international imperatives to comply with European rules.

As Hungary's ruling right-wing party Fidesz won 44 percent of the popular vote and took control of more than 66 percent of seats in the country's parliament, the far-right Jobbik party recorded its best-ever performance, winning 20 percent of the popular vote. Under Hungary's new electoral system, this means Jobbik won 11 percent of the seats in parliament. In 2010, Jobbik won about 16 percent of the popular vote.

Founded in 2002 by a group of young far-right activists, Jobbik is an openly anti-Roma and anti-Semitic party with ties to illegal paramilitary groups. Its members have been linked to acts of violence against minorities, especially Hungary's Roma population. Jobbik's strong performance in the parliamentary elections makes it one of the most politically successful far-right parties in the European Union.

Hungary's April 6 Election Results

Hungary's April 6 Election Results

While Jobbik will probably do well in the upcoming EU parliamentary elections, similar parties in Western Europe are likely to exclude Jobbik from their efforts to unite Euroskeptical parties throughout the continent. Parties such as France's National Front have been working to soften their rhetoric and reject links to violent groups in an effort to reach out to a broader voter base. They are therefore likely to avoid cooperating with Jobbik or Greece's Golden Dawn regardless of electoral successes.

Although Jobbik is regarded as an illegitimate radical group in most European capitals, Orban has demonstrated his willingness to adopt far-right views in order to achieve his goals. While officially condemning Jobbik's ideology, Fidesz has used much of Jobbik's nationalist rhetoric and policy proposals, especially those regarding cultural and economic policy, since 2010 in an effort to compete for votes. For example, tightening national control over the energy sector and lowering utility prices were among the top proposals of the Jobbik election campaign in 2010 and later became central policy goals of the Orban government. Moreover, once in power Fidesz introduced to the national school curriculum interwar-era anti-Semitic writers favored by Jobbik. They also introduced a national day of commemoration for the 1920 Treaty of Trianon, in which Hungary lost two-thirds of its territory.

Although votes are still being counted, the April 6 elections are likely to result in Fidesz winning between 133 and 134 votes in parliament — just enough for the two-thirds majority required for amending the country's constitution with little or no support from other parties. Regardless of whether Fidesz reaches a two-thirds majority, Orban's government will face increasingly contradictory pressures from domestic constituencies and the European Union.

With far-right Jobbik enjoying unprecedented popularity, Fidesz will try to compete for the support of far-right constituencies by either continuing to co-opt extreme-right policies or by openly cooperating with some elements within Jobbik. But as Orban moves further to the right, the European Union will be more likely to try to set limits on Budapest to prevent other governments within the union from following a similar path.

Thus far, the European Union has been unable to prevent the Fidesz government from violating EU rules. As the Orban government solidified its control of the media, pressured banks and energy companies and limited the powers of independent institutions, the European Union failed to take action. However, if Fidesz moves further to the right and takes more steps to increase national control over key industries, especially banking and utilities, the European Union may take punitive steps, such as withholding EU funds. The European People's Party, the center-right bloc of which Fidesz is a member, will also be under pressure to distance itself from Fidesz. 

With the National Front becoming more popular in France and with Ukraine's Svoboda party gaining recognition as a legitimate political group in many European capitals, some far-right parties are moving toward becoming viable political actors. However, like Greece's Golden Dawn, Jobbik has remained sidelined as an undemocratic party because of its overt racism and ties to violent groups. Although Fidesz will compete with Jobbik by moving further to the right in terms of its rhetoric and policy agenda, Orban's government will continue to avoid openly embracing the far right. Fidesz will balance its domestic goals of appealing to far-right voters with Hungary's need to remain a member of the European Union.

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