Jobbik, the party that is a trying hard to shed its extremist, far-right image, will focus much more attention on the ruling Fidesz party’s unprecedented and systemic corruption spree. Tamás Pintér, the party’s local president in the industrial town of Dunaújváros, will enter parliament in the fall, and will take over the seat of Előd Novák, a founding member of Jobbik who opposed the party president, Gábor Vona’s, attempts to move it away from the far-right. And Mr. Pintér made it clear right from the start: his goal in parliament will be to focus attention on the growing corruption scandals around Fidesz. In doing so, he will effectively join the Politics Can Be Different green party (LMP – Lehet Más a Politika), which has made a point of uncovering or raising to the national stage one corruption scandal involving Fidesz almost every week. LMP’s efforts are being led, quite effectively by Ákos Hadházy, once a municipal politician affiliated with Fidesz. He left the governing party, following the scandals involving the redistribution of tobacco concessions to Fidesz loyalists and to the party’s business interests.
In addition to focusing on corruption, the 35 year old Mr. Pintér also intends to advocate for the rights of workers and employees, as well as developing professional training opportunities for job seekers. All of this sounds quite different from the xenophobic identity politics that Jobbik built its electoral success and base on over the past seven years, since their first political breakthrough in the 2009 European Parliamentary elections. But this is in keeping with Mr. Vona’s strategy: tap into Hungarians dissatisfied with Fidesz through real, bread-and-butter issues, rather than a narrow focus on ideological purity.
In fact, Mr. Pintér made it clear at his press conference that he will be supporting the strategy of turning Jobbik into a broader coalition–what in Hungary is often referred to as a people’s party.
Perusing through Mr. Pintér’s Facebook page, the image that forms is one of a relatively soft-spoken, more moderate politician, at least by Jobbik and Fidesz standards. He has mainly been involved in seemingly mundane issues, but ones that are probably important for the average, local voter in Dunaújváros. For instance, he has spoken up about the poor state of street lighting in the town currently controlled by a Fidesz mayor. For Mr. Pintér, this is an issue of public safety–an important topic for Jobbik, but one which he is approaching from a different angle than before. (Previously, Jobbik pointed the finger at the Roma minority.)
It’s too early to tell whether the strategy of Jobbik taking on Fidesz from a more centrist position will work. Recent polling data does not show any marked increase in Jobbik’s popularity. And one poll, from mid-June, suggests that Jobbik has lost ground in some of its key demographic areas, namely youth, those with lower levels of education and in villages. According to ZRI Závecz Research, Jobbik stands at 19% among decided voters and is tied with the Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP) at that level of support. Fidesz stands at 39% and former Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány’s centre-left Democratic Coalition (DK) saw some modest gains and is now at 11%. The only other party to reach the 5% threshold required for representation in parliament is LMP, which sits right at this minimum level. It would appear as though the Socialist voting base is now almost precisely the same size as that of Jobbik, after several years of falling into an embarrassing third place. And with electoral cooperation between MSZP and DK more likely today than it was even a few weeks ago, there is little doubt that the two largest parties of the centre-left push Jobbik into third place.
According to this most recent poll, Jobbik’s support dropped by 2% from earlier this spring.
Mr. Vona has declared that if Jobbik does not form government after the 2018 elections, he will resign. Jobbik has a very steep hill to climb and so far, there is little evidence to suggest that their modified communication strategy and turn away from the worst elements of the xenophobic far-right has helped.