Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Centre-right has landslide win in Hungarian election

The centre-right Fidesz Party has won power from the ruling Socialists after winning over half the vote in Sunday’s Hungarian parliamentary elections. Fidesz performed as well as the opinion polls had predicted and won 52.8 of the vote which translates to a healthy majority of 206 seats in the 386 seat legislature. The socialists were routed and ended up with just 28 seats barely two more than gained by the far right Jobbik Party. The Greens also passed the threshold to get into parliament, securing five seats. A second round of voting follows on April 25 to elect another 121 members but Fidesz already has the numbers to rule outright.

Nevertheless the second round of voting is important as they are in sight of a two-thirds majority it needs to push through vital reforms. The victory will see Fidesz party leader Victor Orban take the prime minister’s job for the second rule. The Oxford educated Orban is a veteran of Hungarian politics despite being just 46 years old. He was a foundation member of Fidesz (an acronym of FIatal DEmokraták SZövetsége which means "Alliance of Young Democrats" ) in 1988 at the end of the Communist era. He took over the leadership of the party two years later in the first free elections and became Hungary’s second youngest ever Prime Minister in 1998 after he led a Coalition to victory. He oversaw Hungary’s admission into NATO but was beset by scandals which helped him lose office in 2002. Fidesz were defeated again in 2006 but with his leadership secure Orban was in a position to capitalise this time round on electoral dissatisfaction with the Socialists savage budget cuts.

With unemployment running at 11.4 percent and an economy that contracted by 6.3 percent in 2009 Orhan faces a massive task to avoid the same fate despite his strong mandate. Fidesz campaigned on cutting taxes, creating jobs and supporting local businesses but was hazy about how to deliver on a promise to create a million jobs in 10 years. Fidesz has also said could double the deficit target set by the IMF and EU as part of a rescue package by slashing local government and implementing efficiencies in health care and education.

Besides Orhan’s routing of the ruling party, the elections other big talking point was the dangerous rise of Jobbik. The anti-semitic and anti-gypsy party came from nowhere in the last four years capitalising on discontent with the major parties. Led by 32-year-old history teacher Gabor Vona, the party tapped into nationalist sentiment of shame over Hungary’s reputation as a sick economy. Jobbik campaigned on a platform of blaming Jews and the Roma for Hungary’s ills and their rise brings back uncomfortable memories of the Nazi era. Much of their support was in poor rural areas with high unemployment and they were helped organisationally by the Magyar Garda (Hungarian Guard) a paramilitary group with black uniforms to the Arrow Cross, Hungary's original Nazi party. Though the Guard was disbanded by court order last year for breaking association law in continues under an assumed name. Vona is a founding member of the Magyar Garda.

Prime Minister in waiting Orhan has said he is deeply unhappy with Jobbik’s rise and has no plans to bring them into a coalition. He will be relying on an improvement in the economy to curb their growing appeal. Orban said good governing was the best defense against the far right. “I am convinced that the better the performance of the government is, the weaker the far right will be in the future,” he said. However it is also likely Orhan will restrain Jobbik’s influence by embracing its social conservatism and family values while adopting its tough attitudes on law and order.

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