Hungary’s far-right Jobbik party has won its first constituency seat in the key town of Tapolca in Veszprém county, edging out rivals with a lead of a little less than 300 votes.
Although Jobbik candidate Lajos Rig only won a narrow victory, his success is a symbolic morale-booster for the party which hopes to unseat Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s ruling Fidesz party in the 2018 parliamentary elections.
Addressing a crowd of supporters in Tapolca, Jobbik leader Gabor Vona celebrated his party’s victory saying, “The mood in Hungary is for a change of government and with Jobbik Hungary finally has a force to change the government.”
The Sunday poll in Tapolca was held following the death of Fidesz party member Jenő Lasztovicza, who died suddenly while in office in January at the age of 53.
Jobbik, which adheres to an ideology known as Pan-Turanism - a movement promoting the Hungarian identity as part of a wider Ural-Altaic family that covers much of central and northern Asia as well as eastern Europe - made a huge impact in last year’s parliamentary polls when it secured 20.54 percent of the vote, making it Hungary’s third largest party.
The gap between Jobbik and Fidesz has been narrowing as Fidesz struggles to deal with corruption allegations and revelations about its unpopular internet tax measures in addition to limits on Sunday trading.
According to a February poll by Ipsos, current support for Jobbik stands at 18 percent, just 3 percent behind Fidesz which has seen a significant drop in support.
Speaking to AP, analyst Peter Krausz from Budapest's Policy Agenda claimed Fidesz is caught in a “downward spiral from which it will be very difficult to exit."
"What looks certain for now is that many of the voters disillusioned with Fidesz are supporting Jobbik instead," Krausz added.
The party is particularly popular among younger voters below the age of 30, and has successfully attracted a large number of former Fidesz supporters. Up to a fifth of Jobbik supporters today once supported Fidesz, a Median poll published April 9 revealed.
‘Not a Nazi party’
The eurosceptic party has been criticized for utterances of anti-Roma and anti-Semitic rhetoric in the past and is accused of being overtly pro-Russian, but in an interview with the Magyar Nemzet newspaper last month Jobbik leader Vona said the party would tone down its language to appeal to a wider spectrum of voters.
“We need to preserve our program in a way that appeals to the widest layers of Hungarian society,” Vona said. “I’m going to disappoint those who hoped that Jobbik was an extremist, Nazi party.”
Vona previously penalized a party member who insulted Roma people by ordering him to live with another party member who happens to be from the Roma community. He also demanded another party member who spat on a Holocaust memorial to return to the site with a flower.
“Desecrating the memory of the dead, the notion of collective guilt and vulgar acts have no place in Jobbik,” Vona told Magyar Nemzet, clearing up the incident.
Nonetheless, many are still suspicious about Jobbik’s intentions as the party’s website still calls for resisting “Zionist Israel’s quest for world domination” and fighting the EU’s “colonial policies.”
On Sunday around 10,000 people marched through Budapest to commemorate the Holocaust. Speaking at the annual rally, World Jewish Congress president Ronald Lauder slammed Jobbik as “extremist.”
"Jobbik may think they are true Hungarians trying to save Hungary, but Jobbik hurts Hungary in the eyes of the rest of the world," said Lauder.
"Too often the government does not go against Jobbik. And anti-Semitism has no room in any country, particularly a country like Hungary."
In May 2013, Jobbik organized a protest in Budapest as the World Jewish Congress held its four-yearly meeting in the Hungarian capital, a break from its traditional venue in Jerusalem.
Party supporters used the occasion to voice their opposition to Jewish businessmen eyeing privatization opportunities in the country after former Israeli President Shimon Peres praised Jews for buying property in Hungary.
"The Israeli conquerors, these investors, should look for another country in the world for themselves because Hungary is not for sale," Vona said at the time.
Hungary was one of the worst-affected nations during the Nazi campaign in Europe in World War II, with around half a million Jews losing their lives in concentration camps. Today, only around 100,000 Jews remain in Hungary.