Jobbik is breathing down the neck of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and his ruling Fidesz party. According to the latest from research institute Ipsos, the radical-right party has 18% support among voters compared with Fidesz’s 21%. In February Jobbik had 16%.
Ipsos says Jobbik may be able to increase its voting base by more than half a million people within a year, including an estimated 200,000 former Fidesz-supporters. In particular, the extremist party has growing popularity among the under-30s, with 21% support to Fidesz’s 17%.
Jobbik president Gábor Vona says he is confident the party will be the “major challenger” to Fidesz at the 2018 parliamentary election. “The Hungarian national politics will be about the question Fidesz or Jobbik,” he believes.
Vona said Jobbik is no longer strong only in the underdeveloped northeast but in the whole country. This had been confirmed in the municipal elections last autumn when Jobbik ranked second in 17 municipalities out of 19, and secured the mayorship in several major towns.
In an interview on conservative news channel Echo TV recently Vona said no other party had managed to near Fidesz’s results so closely since 2010. He said the difference in the number of voters for Fidesz and Jobbik is only 200,000; about 1.7 million people would vote for Fidesz today and 1.5 million for Jobbik. Therefore it was not too early any more to speak about a “trend of change” in national politics.
Vona reminded Echo TV viewers that his party had decided to change strategy at the end of 2013 by becoming a “national party” and behaving in a corresponding way, namely more moderately, prudently and closer to the people. This was how Jobbik had managed to broaden its voting base from around one million in the 2014 parliamentary elections to about 1.5 million today.
He maintained that Jobbik has managed to attract around 350,000 new voters in the past few months who previously had no party preference.
Vona said that if Jobbik succeeded in taking the lead, it would not form a governing coalition with any of the current parliamentary parties. “We would prefer to have a minority government,” he said.
In an interview with conservative weekly magazine Heti Válasz he opined that political debate in Hungary is concentrating on the “wrong battlefields”, and thus missing out on reality. Hungarians were looking for “meaningful debates” and “peace”. This was why Jobbik had decided to achieve a “correct and constructive political atmosphere”.
Political analysts say Jobbik’s popularity is increasing so dynamically because the left wing has been helplessly losing its support base for years. Vona said the left has collapsed “morally and politically“. The four most important left parties combined could only achieve the same result as Jobbik in the Ipsos research. Only the Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP), which lost power in 2010, did relatively well with 12%.
The strengthening of Jobbik has been aided by Fidesz’s large loss of popularity: more than one million voters in a year. A series of controversial government decisions such as the planned internet tax, Sunday shopping closures and increasing the advertising tax have hit the party hard.
Orbán is said to be no longer king of his castle, with rumbling discontent in the party and his falling out with former confidante and media magnate Lajos Simicska. The previously pro-government media owned by Simicska, in particular daily newspaper Magyar Nemzet, has taken an unusually critical tone about the Orbán government.
Radical right and popular right parties are growing throughout Europe, for example the Front National in France, the Dutch Party for Freedom led by Geert Wilders and the Freedom Party of Austria. What is the reason?
Analysts point to frustration among citizens about the poor economic situation in their own countries, unemployment and rigid saving measures enforced by the European Union. There is anger that “the ones in Brussels” talk more about market and competition than social issues. Critical remarks about EU structures are thwarted and sensitive debates, such as about migration, are seemingly not discussed in an open and honest way. National governments blame the EU for unpopular decisions.
The political palette of extreme-right and popular-right parties is more or less the same in Europe: they are against immigration and denounce the “misuse of asylum”, they connect drug trafficking and criminality with foreigners/minorities and open borders. In terms of social politics they support the traditional family and animal welfare, and oppose single-sex marriage. They are anti-Semitic, anti-Islam and anti-Roma.
They foster a friend-enemy approach that manifests as hostility against outsiders, including criticism of capitalism and the EU, and which appeals to the lower social classes and the bourgeoisie, or middle class.
The hour of truth comes for the far right if they gain power, as FPÖ did in Austria in a coalition government from 1999 before falling sharply in support in 2002. Vona told Heti Válasz: “All the people who don’t believe that Jobbik is competent for governance will be surprised.”