Hungarian center-right sweeps elections

Extreme right party third-largest on anti-Semitic sentiments.

Hungarian Guard250 (photo credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Hungarian Guard250
(photo credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS)
BUDAPEST, Hungary — Hungary's center-right party Fidesz reclaimed the right to govern on Sunday, winning over 50 percent of the vote and handing the ruling Socialists a humiliating defeat. Extreme rightists backed by black clad paramilitary troops took more than 15 percent to come in third.
While widely forecast, the strong gain of the extreme right Jobbik party represented the greatest political shake-up of the election, shattering Hungary's traditional post-communist status quo of a parliament dominated by the center right and the left.
Fidesz's landslide victory had been expected by pollsters and its result of 52.8 percent in the first round translated into 206 seats for now in the 386-seat legislature.
The governing Socialists, whom many Hungarians blame for their dismal economy, were far behind with 19.3 percent and 28 seats, followed closely by the far-right, anti-Gypsy Jobbik with 26 seats and 16.7 percent — over three times as much as any other far-right party since the country's return to democracy from communism in 1990.
The depth of the Socialist fall was reflected in a comparison of their present showing to that of the last election four years ago, when they garnered 43 percent support.
A green party, Politics Can Be Different, exceeded expectations with 7.4 percent and 5 seats ahead of a second round on April 25 when the fate of the remaining 111 seats is decided in runoffs for 57 constituencies where no candidate got at least half the votes.
"I can see that there is complete joy ... but at the same time I know deep in my heart that I stand before the biggest task of my life," Fidesz leader Viktor Orban, who was prime minister in 1998-2002, said as a huge crowd gathered outside the party's election headquarters at downtown Vorosmarty Square. "People voted for unity, order and security."
Jobbik, which burst onto the political scene last year with anationalist platform blaming Gypsies and Jews for many of the country'sproblems, claimed that only a series of scandals about some of itscandidates created by the media prevented it from overtaking theSocialists.
"Despite the strong headwinds, Jobbik has managed to double its votersover the past year," Jobbik president Gabor Vona said after preliminaryresults were announced by the National Election Office. "I still feel,however, that two-thirds of Hungarians are Jobbik supporters but don'tknow it yet."
To varying degrees, Jews and Gypsies have traditionally served asscapegoats in Eastern Europe for resident majorities during hard times.Jobbik has been able to inflate the traditional, relatively small baseof extreme nationalist and anti-Semitic supporters with voters fromHungary's struggling country villages where the lack of jobs andpoverty-related thievery has exacerbated tensions with Gypsies, orRoma, as they are also called.
Jobbik's rise also has been aided by the popularity of the MagyarGarda, or Hungarian Guard, an extremist group whose uniforms arereminiscent of those worn in the 1940s by the Arrow Cross, Hungary'sinfamous wartime Nazi party.
The Garda was co-founded by Vona, the Jobbik leader, although he is nolonger an active member. It was disbanded last year by the courts forbreaking laws governing the operation of groups and associations, butit continues to exist under a new name.
The Garda's most confrontational actions have been a series of marchesthrough small countryside towns and villages meant to intimidate theirlarge Gypsy populations and stop what Jobbik calls "Gypsy crimes" —mostly petty thefts too numerous and considered too minor for police todeal with.
An unprecedented series of Roma killings in 2008 and 2009 claimed sixlives in several villages, reflecting the depth of hatred against theminority.
The Socialists owed their stunning defeat to loss of credibilityamassed during eight years of government and deeply unpopular austeritymeasures imposed in the past months.
Despite the euphoria of Fidesz supporters, the party has a difficulttask ahead. Hungary's economy is mired in a recession which saw theeconomy contract by 6.3 percent last year and unemployment rise to anew high of 11.4 percent.
Hungary is under the close watch of the International Monetary Fund,the biggest contributor to a standby loan of 20 billion euros ($27billion) pledged in late 2008 as fears spread about Hungary's possibledefault on its foreign debt.