Softer Image Helps Far-Right’s Gains in Hungary

Pablo Gorondi, ABC News, April 7, 2014

Prime Minister Viktor Orban easily trounced his rivals to once again become Hungary’s undisputed leader, but the strong showing of the country’s far-right Jobbik party has left Jewish leaders and others worried.

Jobbik’s politicians are known for anti-Semitic and anti-Roma statements, but scooped up third place in Sunday’s ballot. The party toned down its rhetoric for the contest and focused on mainstream issues like the economy.

Analysts said Monday that Jobbik’s popularity remained strong in Hungary’s northeast, a region shackled with high unemployment and conflicts with the Roma.

But it added voters in other areas, including the richer, western half of Hungary, and the districts surrounding the capital, Budapest, winning 20.5 percent of the votes, up from 16.7 percent in 2010. Jobbik leader Gabor Vona was pleased with the vote and claimed it showed his broadening base in Hungary, despite his disappointment that the party did not win the elections.

“Jobbik’s support has not only strengthened, but it also has become more balanced,” Vona said on state television. “It seems the split between east and west has ceased.”

Jobbik’s gains are seen as a warning ahead of May’s European Parliament elections, when extremist parties across the continent could attract more voters.

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Jobbik accuses Israeli investors of trying to buy up Hungarian properties, wants to drive multinational corporations out of the country, and targets its most vicious remarks not at immigrants, but against the local Roma, who are blamed for petty crimes and are seen as taking unfair advantage of social welfare programs

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Vona and other Jobbik candidates released photos posing with cats and puppies and appeared with their kids in women’s magazines.

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