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8th Dec 2023

Landmark win by Jobbik poses challenge to Hungarian PM

  • The Jobbik party has toned down its inflammatory rhetoric and sought to get rid of its image as a racist party in a bid to woo disillusioned Fidesz voters.
 (Photo: Leigh Phillips)

Hungary's far-right Jobbik narrowly won a by-election on Sunday (12 April) and is set to take on prime minister Viktor Orban’s ruling Fidesz as the largest opposition force in the country.

The constituency win - the far-right candidate beat the Fidesz challenger by just 300 votes - is a first for Jobbik and presents a major challenge to Orban and his right-wing party ahead of general elections in 2018.

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“The mood is set for a change of government in Hungary and in Jobbik there is a force finally that can change the government,” party leader Gabor Vona told a cheering crowd of supporters in the town of Tapolca.

Jobbik has capitalised on the political landscape in Hungary where the left-wing opposition is fragmented and remains weak after consecutive election losses against Orban.

Meanwhile the Jobbik party has toned down its inflammatory rhetoric and sought to get rid of its image as a racist party in a bid to woo disillusioned Fidesz voters.


Support for Orban’s party has plummeted steeply in recent months amid general discontent about corruption or anger about ad hoc policies such as a proposed Internet tax.

According to a March poll, Fidesz has 21 percent support but Jobbik is snapping as its heels with 18 percent, and it is already the most popular party among voters under 30.

Meanwhile a fifth of Jobbik supporters say they voted for Orban’s party at last year’s general election, another poll found. 


Fidesz lost its all-powerful two-thirds majority in parliament at a by-election in February. Although it has ruled out working with Jobbik, the government has been borrowing some of its policy ideas, like building closer ties with Russia and introducing a public works programme.

Spy on the stand?

Jobbik has been repeatedly accused of being a proxy for the Kremlin and of having received funding from Russia, something the party has denied.

The suspected link between Russia's meddling in European politics and Jobbik was highlighted a year ago when one of Jobbik's MEPs, Bela Kovacs, was accused by the Hungarian authorities of having spied on the European institutions for Russia. 

Kovacs has denied the allegations and is to tell his side of the story on 16 April before a European Parliament committee that will then decide if the evidence is strong enough to lift his immunity.

It is unclear what Kovacs did to raise the suspicion of the authorities. But rumours had long been circulating about his ties with Russian intelligence, to the extent that he already had a nickname – KGBela, in a reference to the Soviet Union's KGB agency.

There have also been suspicions that Orban's Fidesz party leaked information about Kovacs to the press just ahead of last year's EU elections in order to damage Jobbik's campaign.

 Andras Dezso, a journalist with Index.hu news portal who has covered Kovacs's story extensively told this website that most of the evidence is likely to be circumstantial.

“For instance meeting Russian diplomats in a conspirative, secretive manner,” he said.
 
The evidence sent to Brussels by the Hungarian authorities is classified.


Meanwhile Hungarian media reported that OLAF, the EU's anti-fraud office, is also investigating Kovacs on suspicion of misusing funds provided for hiring assistants.

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