Hungary's Conservative Sweep Restores Orbán - And Raises Some Old Fears     Print Email

Orbán Is Moderate Nationalist, But Far-right Also Making Gains

Fidesz, the center-right party led by former Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, seems set to sweep Hungary’s elections, perhaps with a two-thirds majority in parliament, returning to power after nearly a decade. But the results of the first round of voting worries some people because of the winner in third place: Jobbik.  It is part of a troubling trend in Europe in recent elections amid the economic meltdown.

Jobbik is a sole-issue party: anti-gypsy. This ultra-nationalist movement, accused of having anti-Semitic currents in its ranks, gained 17 per cent of the vote, compared to the second-place Socialists’ roughly 20 per cent. Enjoying an absolute majority of 53 per cent of the vote, Fidesz, with its more subdued nationalist policies, will not need Jobbik as a coalition partner when it forms the new government after the run-off vote.

But the rise of extremism in Hungary, so economically troubled that it was the first EU country to ask for a bail-out from the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the European Union, parallels the new influence of far-right parties in several EU countries, including the Netherlands and some areas of Germany, particularly former East Germany.

Orbán, conservative leader and presumably new prime minister, has been uncharacteristically quiet on financial questions during the campaign, and many observers read that to mean he realizes that he will have to continue enforcing the unpopular austerity measures – to keep Hungary’s precarious current solvency.

Hungary’s outgoing Prime Minister Gordon Bajnai is credited with staving off the collapse of his country’s economy in his one-year tenure in office. At the height of the financial crisis, Bajnai, who is perceived as a technocrat with no political base in any party, took the top job on condition that all parties agree in advance not to oppose his plan for unpopular austerity measures. His term in office was an unusual success story of enlightened national leadership, as explained in a profile of him in a previous issue of European Affairs.

In a poignant acknowledgement of Bajnai’s exemplary success, the Hungarian leader was recently visited by the prime minister of troubled Greece. George Papandreou wanted the advice of his Hungarian counterpart on how to handle a critical fiscal crisis of the sort that Athens faces now. In a subsequent interview, Bajnai explained the fact that Hungary is not yet in the euro might have had an effect on Hungarians’ acceptance of tough austerity measures. Since Hungarians often borrow not in their own currency, the forint, but rather in lower-interest euros or Swiss francs, Hungarians run very personal risks every time their currency fluctuates. In contrast, Greeks’ confidence in their euro status may have contributed to reckless behavior by Greek citizens and perhaps even the government.

Bajnai said, the time might now be ripe for Hungary to join the euro, which would become a source of financial security for his country now that it has regained a path of slow but solid growth.


Written by Basil Maudave