Socialists Ousted as Hungary Veers Right
by Charles Lemos, Sun Apr 11, 2010 at 09:42:16 PM EDT
Hungarians went to the polls on Sunday to elect a new Parliament in the first of a two round electoral calendar. As widely expected, the Socialist government of Gordon Bajnai in power since April of 2009 was ousted amidst an economic downturn that has rocked most of Central and Eastern Europe. The new Prime Minister is almost certainly to be Victor Orban of the centre-right Fidesz party which last governed between 1998 and 2002. Fidesz had campaigned on cutting taxes, creating jobs and supporting local businesses to boost to Hungary's economy, which contracted by 6.3 percent last year. Unemployment is running at 11.4 percent.
Fidesz secured 206 out of 386 parliamentary seats, the National Election Committee said, based on individual constituencies and party list votes. The Socialists won 28 seats, just ahead of 26 for Jobbik, a far-right Hungarian nationalist party that is both an anti-Roma (gyspy) and anti-Semitic. Jobbik now enters the Hungarian Parliament for the first time having won one in six votes.
The green liberal LMP party also passed the threshold to get into Parliament, securing a modest five seats. A second round of voting will be held on April 25 when the remaining 121 seats will be decided. It is possible if not probable that Fidesz will secure a two-thirds governing majority that will allow it to implementing deep structural reforms demanded by the International Monetary Fund. Already the outgoing Socialist government led by technocrat Gordon Bajnai had made painful budget cuts to rein in the deficit under the deal led by the IMF.
Below the fold more on the disturbing rise of the Jobbik party.
From the New York Times:
Jobbik’s leader, Gabor Vona, 32, a former history teacher who has tapped into a growing nationalism fanned by economic hardship, is a founding member of the Magyar Garda, an association whose uniforms are reminiscent of those worn by the Arrow Cross, Hungary’s wartime Nazi party. 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.
Analysts said Jobbik’s growing popularity illustrates how the economic crisis was helping to fuel a regional backlash against minorities, as citizens look for scapegoats to help explain their woes. In Hungary, where Jobbik supporters have staged a series of protest marches near rural Roma settlements, at least five Roma have been killed in the past two years and Roma leaders have counted about 30 firebomb attacks against their people’s homes.
Hungary’s nearly 100,000-strong Jewish community also has been targeted, with Jobbik claiming that “foreign speculators,” including Israel, want to control the country. A recent edition of the party magazine showed a statue of St. Gellert — an 11th-century martyred bishop — holding a menorah instead of a cross. “Is this what you want?” it asked.
Jobbik has denied being racist, saying that it is merely reflecting the views of many Hungarians. Party leaders declined a request for an interview.
Pal Tamas, a leading sociologist at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences in Budapest, said Jobbik was appealing to largely rural unemployed voters who had adapted badly since the fall of communism and 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.”
Analysts said Jobbik’s pledges of restoring law and order also resonated with voters frustrated by what they see as endemic corruption and duplicity among the ruling Socialist Party. Last year, Ferenc Gyurcsany, a Socialist, resigned as prime minister, saying he considered himself a hindrance to further economic and social reforms.
In the autumn of 2006, violent protests erupted after it emerged that Mr. Gyurcsany had admitted, in a secretly taped speech leaked to the media, that his party had “lied” to deceive the public about the state of the economy before elections that spring.
Hungary is among the countries in Eastern Europe hit hardest by the financial crisis. In late 2008 it was forced to approach the International Monetary Fund for $25 billion in emergency financing. Unemployment has soared to a 16-year high of 11.2 percent and the economy contracted in 2009 by 6.3 percent. The Socialist government has raised taxes and slashed spending, helping to reduce Hungary’s budget deficit to 4 percent of gross domestic product in 2009, from 9.3 percent in 2006.
But while it has stabilized Hungary’s finances it has alienated many voters.
When governments do the IMF's bidding, there is always a political price to pay. Nonetheless, the more disturbing trend is the rise of neo-fascist, hypernationalist, anti-immigrant parties across Europe.