After eight years in opposition, former Hungarian premier Viktor Orban looked set to win the country’s general elections, which kick off on Sunday, but he will face a new political force: the far-right Jobbik party.
Opinion polls ahead of the first round put Orban’s right-wing Fidesz party far ahead with between 57 percent and 59 percent of votes, with the ruling Socialists trailing on at between 10 percent and 20 percent.
That is a far cry from the last elections in 2006, when the Socialist Party (MSZP) narrowly defeated Fidesz by 43.21 percent to 42.03 percent.
But the surprise has been Jobbik, which looks set to claim between nine and 17 percent, perhaps even beating the Socialists to second place, the Szazadveg Institute said.
Jobbik means “better” in Hungarian and is short for “Movement for a Better Hungary.” It has links with other far-right parties in Europe, such as France’s Front National and the British National Party and critics have denounced its anti-Semitic, anti-Roma rhetoric.
It could now enter parliament for the first time after a meteoric rise that culminated in its winning almost 15 percent of the vote in European elections last year. Most polls predict only these three parties will enter the new parliament, although the left-wing green party LMP and the neo-conservative MDF could also reach the five-percent threshold.
A key question is whether Fidesz will secure a two-thirds majority, which would allow it to change the constitution.
Hard hit by the global economic crisis, Hungary is slowly emerging from the slump, thanks to the Socialist government’s rigorous budgetary program, following a 20 billion euro (US$29.6 billion) international bailout.
A public deficit of 4 percent last year, compared with 9.1 percent three years ago, has helped stabilize the local currency — the forint — and the Hungarian market is regaining international investors’ confidence.
But tax increases, state subsidy cuts, the abolition of the 13-month salary and pension, and record 11.4 percent unemployment have made the government unpopular.
Hungarians look likely to punish it by voting to the right on Sunday and April 25.
Fidesz’s charismatic leader Viktor Orban, 46, who was prime minister from 1998 to 2002, has promised to create one million jobs over the next 10 years.
He has pledged significant tax cuts to relaunch the economy, which shrank by 6.2 percent of GDP last year and has called for all politicians involved in corruption to be punished.
Jobbik — whose banned paramilitary wing, the Hungarian Guard, was reminiscent of World War II Hungarian fascists — is also appealing to the populist vote, promoting a “Hungary for Hungarians.”
In his farewell speech to parliament last week, Hungarian Prime Minister Gordon Bajnai — a technocrat who took over in April last year after Ferenc Gyurcsany’s resignation — urged the next government to carry through the economic reforms he introduced.
Fidesz has predicted a public deficit of about 7 percent thisk year — far above the 3 percent threshold allowed by the EU — blaming it on the Socialists’ poor financial policies.
“A [forecast] public deficit of 3.8 percent for 2010 is a ridiculous calculation by the MSZP,” Fidesz spokesman Peter Szijjarto told journalists.
Such lapses are unlikely to be tolerated by the IMF or the EU, which both contributed to Hungary’s bailout. A growing deficit could also further delay the country’s introduction of the euro.
“Hungary needs the euro as soon as possible and 2014 is still a possible deadline for its introduction,” Bajnai said last week.
Opinion polls were already predicting low turnout for the election.
The campaign failed to rally voters and only about 53 percent were expected to vote on Sunday, Szonda-Ipsos polling institute said. In 2006, turnout was 67.83 percent in the first round.
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