- 14 Apr 2010 4:00 AM
They, however, fear that far-right Jobbik, which gained 26 mandates in the 1st round, might cause some static. (Click here for analyst views.)
While the sheer numbers in the change of the parties’ popularity may come as a small surprise, the outcome of the poll is largely as expected.
What was not so much on the cards and what made headlines in the international press was the strong showing for Jobbik. Nearly every foreign media described the far-right party as nationalist, anti-Semitic and anti-Roma, and warned of possible negative implications from its growing influence.
Hungary’s Fidesz secured 206 mandates in the 386-seat parliament in the first round of general elections on Sunday, having received 394,000 more votes than four years earlier when it was defeated for the second time in a row by the Socialists.
The MSZP, however, received 1.36 million less votes now than four years ago and mustered 28 mandates so far. A total of 121 mandates are left to be allocated in the second round to be held on 25 April. Fidesz needs more than 258 for a 2/3rds majority.
Fidesz President Viktor Orbán said this was not an ordinary, but a "historic election".
"I am facing the biggest task of my life," he said, adding that Hungarians "made a judgement" in the first round and "defeated hopelessness".
Orbán held an international press conference on Monday, where he said the first actions by Fidesz would be aimed at cutting red tape, fight corruption and revamping the state.
One of the biggest (positive) surprises was that a new green(ish) party, LMP ('Politics Can Be Different’) has reached the 5% threshold and secured 5 mandates already. In opinion polls its support has been around 3-6%, so it receiving 7.48% of the votes came as a surprise.
András Schiffer, head of LMP’s list, said it was a miracle that they have made it to parliament, proving all polls wrong. What LMP achieved is giving hope to the country that decent policy making is not a pipe dream. This is the first time an "ecopolitical power" enters the Hungarian parliament, he added.
Schiffer said their real task is to demonstrate that a Hungarian parliamentary party can in fact exist and function with a different kind of approach and participation in the country’s 21st century political culture.
LMP campaign chief Gergely Karácsony said the party has dispersed the belief that a political agenda must be built on the brainlessness of the electors and that a campaign can be seen to the end only by the support of billionaires, deploying unfair means.
He said it is not only their party that made it to Parliament but also a notion that "politics is in the end about the citizens and not about politicians."
"If we lose your trust, just tell us to go to hell. But I promise you that we won’t (let you down)," Karácsony added.
Ibolya Dávid, President of the Hungarian Democratic Forum (MDF) that collected only 2.67% of the votes and thus dropped out of Parliament, has tendered her resignation.
She said the "devastating defeat" of her party was attributed to recent belligerence against MDF.
Gábor Vona, President of far-right Jobbik, said many of them expected a better result, as they wanted to receive more votes than the Socialists. He added that while they "have not nailed the last nail in MSZP’s coffin yet", the party will be gone only in a few months.
Vona considers Jobbik’s 16.66% a success in view of the "harsh headwinds" the party has been receiving.
While the defamation campaign against Jobbik discouraged a lot of people from voting for the party, "two-thirds of Hungarians sympathise with Jobbik, they just don’t know it yet," Vona added.
He emphasised that the party "started from scratch and gathered nearly one million supporters in about two years."
"We have swept out MDF and SZDSZ, these two freaks of nature, from the Hungarian public life for good," Vona said.
"We were born to win, [...] we are getting stronger by the day and will not stop until final victory," he closed his speech after the first round of the elections.
International reactions: Hungarian demons
The New York Times said the success of Jobbik, which has railed against "Gypsy crime" and Jews, "threatens to tarnish Hungary’s international image and, some analysts say, could undermine its economic recovery from the hard hit it took in the global financial crisis."
"Jobbik's rowdies make the late Jörg Haider and his Austrian Freedom Party (FPÖ) sound like a harmless bunch of choirboys in retrospect," Walter Mayr wrote last week on Spiegel Online.
Vona, who tapped into a growing nationalism fanned by economic hardship, is a founding member of the Magyar Gárda (Hungarian Guard), an association "whose uniforms are reminiscent of those worn by the Arrow Cross, Hungary’s wartime Nazi party," the NYT said.
The group, which was outlawed last year but has not disbanded, has revived dark memories of World War II, when Jews and Roma were deported to concentration camps, the paper noted.
The Daily Telegraph also noted that the banned paramilitary group’s insignia is modelled on the Arrow Cross of Hungary's wartime Nazis.
The paper reminded that the large showing for Jobbik follow an upsurge in support for the far-right across Europe.
Last month, French regional elections, dominated by debates over immigration, saw electoral revival for the National Front. In June, Dutch elections could propel Geert Wilders, whose anti-Islamic, hard-right Freedom Party leads the polls, into power.
Vona, has vowed to be sworn in as an MP wearing the banned uniform. "I will keep my promise to go into parliament on the first day in a Gárda vest," he said.
The Hungarian Guard staged a series of marches against "gypsy crime" through small countryside towns and villages with large Roma communities. An unprecedented series of Roma killings in 2008 and 2009 claimed six lives in several villages. Roma leaders have counted about 30 firebomb attacks against their people’s homes.
Jobbik has also pledged to revive the gendarmerie to police the country's gypsy minority, the Telegraph said. Hungary's Csendőrség, or gendarmes, were disbanded for its role in deporting over half a million Hungarian Jews to their deaths in Nazi concentration camps or shooting them into the icy Danube in the last winter of WWII.
Analysts said Jobbik’s growing popularity illustrates how the economic crisis was helping to fuel a regional backlash against minorities, as people look for someone to blame, the NYT said.
Hungary’s Jewish population of nearly 100,000 has also been one of its targets, with Jobbik claiming that "foreign speculators," including Israel, want to control the country.
A recent issue of the magazine Barikád printed a photomontage on its cover showing Benedictine monk and local patron St. Gellért - an 11th-century martyred bishop - atop the Budapest hill named after him, brandishing a seven-branched candelabrum, called Menorah - the national emblem of Israel - over the city instead of a cross.
"Budapest, Wake Up! Is this what you want? " it asked.
Jobbik has denied being racist, saying that it is merely reflecting the views of many Hungarians (see page 3).
The NYT cited Pál Tamás, a leading sociologist at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences in Budapest, as saying that Jobbik was appealing to largely rural unemployed voters who, he argued, were projecting "all the Hungarian traumas of the past century," including the economic crisis, onto minorities.
"The party has played on the country’s sense of wounded pride to make Roma and Jews the scapegoats for everything that has gone wrong," he said, "even if many Jobbik voters have never even seen a Jew."
The Wall Street Journal also said considerable support for Jobbik "could be a concern because it could hinder economic reforms."
Some economists warned that if Fidesz secured a two-thirds majority, that would raise concerns that the party it "could possibly overturn basic democratic principles and liberties," ING Bank economist David Németh told the WSJ.
"The best scenario for the economy is for Fidesz to win a comfortable, but simple majority," said economist Raffaella Tenconi at Wood & Co.
"The reason is we are concerned that a powerful mandate will make Fidesz overconfident: pushing the party to implement bold policy changes quickly, translating into more volatility in the currency and the performance of Hungarian assets than otherwise and, ultimately, leaving the country more exposed to future global downturns," Tenconi added.
The key risk about the Hungarian vote is that the radical Jobbik "may gain decisive representation in Parliament or Fidesz would be forced to form a coalition with any of the small parties that would probably slow reforms. Such an outcome may have an immediate negative market implication that would add to risk premiums," Eszter Gárgyán, economist at Citigroup in Budapest, told the WSJ.
In an article headlined 'Hungarian demons’, The Financial Times said on Monday that the 17% of the votes Jobbik received is an "alarming level of support for a party that sits squarely in Europe’s most repulsive arch-nationalist tradition, and which blames Jews and Roma for the hardships of other Hungarians."
The FT noted, though that even this record result is not so different from the level of electoral support achieved by other European far-right forces, such as Jean-Marie Le Pen in France, Jörg Haider in Austria, or the League of Polish Families.
The paper said that incoming Prime Minister Viktor Orbán "must now address the problems that make the far right attractive to some voters."
Among these, the FT said, is "the centuries-old failure to integrate Roma mired in poverty and too often falling prey to crime."
Fidesz must also carry out a reform of the local government system, the FT said, adding that there are "too many tiny municipalities" with no capacity to provide basic public services such as policing, health and education.
"But there must be no question of Fidesz co-operating with Jobbik," the paper stressed. [...] "A good further step would be to support Fidesz’ reforms - and remove any pretext for the new government to flirt with the far right."
Circumcised peckers and hefty noses
The following quotes by Jobbik President Gábor Vona and Krisztina Morvai, the party’s representative in the European Parliament, do not need any comment apart from those I have added as background info.
Vona about foreigners buying Hungarian land: The following was part of Vona’s campaign opening speech in January and repeated almost verbatim on 15 March, a national holiday.
"If Solomon wants to buy land (in Hungary), well... we’ll have a few conditions. Firstly, Sol you’ll need to prove that you’ve lived in Hungary for ten years. And not only that you’ve lived here ten years, but also that you’ve lived off the land [...] that farming is your profession. You’ll need a certificate that you’ve passed an advanced Hungarian language test in Rigó utca [the state language centre - editor’s note] in front of an examination board consisting of members of the Hungarian Guard. You’ll need to graduate at a college of agriculture, the exam rules of which we are yet to figure out. But we already have our first must-answer question: list all the kings of the Árpád dynasty, with dates, within one minute, backwards. And when you’re done, get up to the President’s palace where dr. Krisztina Morvai will be waiting for you. She has two stamps. One says "Our Kind" and the other "Your Kind" and she will decide which one you belong to."
Vona about the liberal Free Democrats (SZDSZ) that is often identified as the party of Jews / Jewish supporters:
"[...] We are facing this battle [the elections - editor’s note] proudly and courageously. How many times we have ridiculed them? How nobly, majestically and simply we have smashed that huge, arrogant nose of the SZDSZ into the floor." --- Applause
SZDSZ... huge nose... hook nose...Jewish nose... Ring a bell?
Vona on criticism by other parties about the (cloaked) meaning of their banners:
"[...] By any chance, isn’t the orange on Fidesz’s flag Jaffa?" --- Roaring laugh, applause
This is another "nudge-nudge" for Jobbik’s sympathisers, using Jaffa - the name of a usually orange flavoured popular carbonated soft drink - while alluring to the ancient port city, now part of Tel Aviv, Israel.
Krisztina Morvai, MEP of Jobbik, wrote an openly anti-Semitic (private) e-mail (addressed to Gábor Barát, a Hungarian Jew living in the United States for over ten years), which appeared in the press as follows:
"I would greatly appreciate if those who define themselves as "proud Hungarian Jews" toyed in their spare time with their own little circumcised peckers instead of smearing me. Your kind have got used to it that whenever you just let her rip all of a sudden all of our kind stand alert and do as you please. Be so kind to realise: this is OVER!!!! We have raised our head and we tolerate the terror by your kind no longer. We will take our country back! Kind regards: Krisztina Morvai."