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HT Comment: Jobbik’s Election Victory – One-Off Result Does Not Necessarily Reflect Nationwide Tendency

On Sunday evening, it was announced that Hungary’s radical nationalist Jobbik party had won its first-ever mandate in an individual constituency, beating the candidate for the ruling centre-right Fidesz-KDNP alliance by a narrow margin of around 300 votes and forcing the fragmented left-wing opposition into a humiliating third place. The election results will clearly puzzle Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, who personally visited the constituency in the run-up to the election in an attempt to boost the campaign of the Fidesz candidate, 50-year-old teacher Zoltán Fenyvesi.

Having gained 35.27 per cent of the vote, Lajos Rig’s victory is also proof that Jobbik, which has recently adopted a far more moderate tone to appeal to mainstream voters, is no longer perceived as a far-right fringe party. This is despite the fact that Fidesz has lately toned up its rhetoric against the party, going as far as branding 41-year-old healthcare worker Mr. Rig a “Nazi” and drawing parallels between Jobbik and Hungary’s fascist Arrow Cross regime during WWII.

The results come within two months of an earlier defeat suffered by Fidesz at a by-election in the nearby Veszprém constituency. In a harsh contrast to yesterday’s Jobbik success, the vote on 22 February was won by a self-proclaimed free-market liberal who was backed by the left-wing opposition despite nominally running as an independent, causing Fidesz-KDNP to loose its two-thirds majority it held in Parliament since 2010. Both constituencies were previously held by Fidesz-KDNP with a convincing majority.

However, it would nevertheless be unwise to draw far-fetching conclusions on nationwide tendencies in party support from the outcome of a local by-election, as the personal embeddedness and connections of candidate can often overwrite voters’ party sympathies. It is also important to remember that a single newly-elected Jobbik MP will have no significant influence on power relations in Parliament; Fidesz-KDNP still has a hefty governing majority. As the proverb goes, “One swallow doesn’t make a summer”; besides, the town of Tapolca, which is the seat of the constituency, was one of the small number of settlements to elect a Jobbik mayor in 2014, proving that at least one major area of the constituency has been a Jobbik stronghold for some time.

On a separate note, the recent election results are also proof that earlier opposition claims that the electoral law passed by the cabinet in 2011 had “gerrymandered” constituencies to secure almost certain majorities for Fidesz were entirely false; Hungary remains a well-functioning democracy in which elections reflect voters’ will and opposition groups of different convictions have the chance of winning elections just like governing parties do, provided that they can gather sufficient support.

Although analysts point out that Fidesz-KDNP is still the most popular party according to nationwide opinion polls and the alliance managed to win elections with a second two-thirds supermajority in 2014 despite suffering a similar slump in late 2012, PM Orbán’s “concept of central power”, drawing on the irreconciliable ideological differences between the far-right opposition and the fragmented Left, could be showing signs of weakening. Although it is natural that governing parties loose and gain support during the government cycle, continous scandals surronding the cabinet will do little to help Fidesz regain its previous positions.

photo: Lajos Rig (mno.hu)