In a series of tense exchanges in Parliament on Monday, after the government’s referendum opposing EU-wide “migrant quotas” was declared invalid, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán went on the offensive. His main target was Gábor Vona, President of the far-right Jobbik party, who had called for the prime minister’s resignation following the failed vote. Mr. Vona had cautioned the prime minister against holding a referendum, for fear that participation would not reach the 50% plus 1 threshold necessary for it to be valid. Mr. Vona preferred to simply amend Hungary’s constitution to spell out that parliamentary consent is necessary before foreign citizens could be “settled” in Hungary. But Mr. Orbán’s referendum was little more than a political tool to focus Hungarian public discourse around an invisible, yet nefarious enemy and to push all discussion of domestic ills off the table. This same polemical discourse and the language of war will continue for the next 18 months, until the 2018 elections. Hungarians can get ready for months of wrangling about Mr. Orbán’s proposed constitutional amendment, as well as the usual fights with Brussels that simply bolster Mr. Orbán back home.
Mr. Vona stood up in Parliament during question period on Monday, and remarked:
“The prime minister could not keep his ego under control and he lost this battle. He has caused damage to the country. I am angry at you and I demand your resignation.”
Prime Minister Orbán responded by claiming that “Jobbik is cheering for Brussels.” The Prime Minister then claimed that the far-right party’s decision to become a lackey of Brussels is “an unpatriotic and inappropriate step.”
“These people are sell-outs,” said Mr. Orbán, before suggesting that Jobbik was following the instructions of its international minders when it calls for the prime minister’s resignation. “Nothing is too costly for Jobbik and they have only one goal: to defeat the prime minister, as was ordered of them,” charged Mr. Orbán. The prime minister did not clarify who might have “ordered” Jobbik to take him down, but considering that Jobbik is also now unpatriotic, perhaps Mr. Orbán will claim that George Soros is pulling Jobbik’s strings too.
It was not just Mr. Orbán who decided to make Jobbik its main target the day after the referendum. There seemed to have been a coordinated strategy in Fidesz to go after their main opponent on the right.
Several Fidesz MPs insinuated that Jobbik members had secretly boycotted the vote. “We have to ask the question: did you even vote?”–asked Csaba Dömötör, a state secretary with the Prime Minister’s Office. Mr. Dömötör remarked that instead of campaigning seriously for a “no” vote, Gábor Vona “spoke about his eyebrow-plucking practices” in a tabloid-style television program that aired on Hungary’s ATV network.
In the meantime, Lajos Kósa, leader of Fidesz’s parliamentary faction, demanded answers from Jobbik as to why turn-out in the referendum was only 31% in the town of Ózd, which is led by a Jobbik mayor.
Mr. Orbán and Fidesz went after the left-centre opposition parties too, but it was clear that Jobbik was their main target on Monday. Mr. Orbán had already questioned Mr. Vona’s decision to try to move Jobbik away from the far-right and has implied that by doing so, the party is losing its “soul.” Mr. Orbán has a long history of destroying every competitor to Fidesz on the right–the last two and a half decades are littered with the vanquished, including the Hungarian Democratic Forum, the Independent Smallholders’ Party and the Christian Democratic People’s Party, which today is merely a subsidiary of Fidesz. Is Jobbik next?