Jobbik’s Gábor Vona gets a boost in his appeal to centrist voters

For Gábor Vona, Christmas may have come early this year. Henrik Havas, a colourful media personality, television host and author, is writing a book on Mr. Vona. Mr. Havas mostly uses a somewhat tabloid writing style and has published on a very diverse range of topics, from sex and pornography, to the stories of convicted murders and their crimes to the refugee camp in Traiskirchen, Austria, which once housed thousands of Hungarian refugees. Mr. Havas seems to be keenly aware of what sells and how to make his books palatable to broad audiences. An “easy-reading” book on Mr. Vona, to be published on the threshold of the spring 2018 election campaign and certain to generate media attention on television shows, is a much more effective way to reach the average voter than giving an interview to a more serious Budapest-based political publication, read by a fairly small group.

Based on Mr. Havas’ previous work, I expect that his book will not be filiopietistic. If anything, it is likely to “humanize” Mr. Vona, by shedding light on his personal life, personal challenges and possibly even indiscretions.

Gábor Vona with Henrik Havas and the Hungarian parliament in the background. They both hold an orange in their hand, the symbol of Fidesz. Photo: Facebook.

Mr. Vona announced Mr. Havas’ book in an interview with the Magyar Nemzet daily. In this interview, journalist Mariann Katona asked Mr. Vona if Jobbik would now embrace liberal voters as well as openly gay Hungarians, even though there are still voices in the party that do not agree with the party chairman’s move towards the centre-right.  When asked whether he expected to receive votes from openly gay voters, Mr. Vona answered:

“Why wouldn’t I? I believe that even in the past, Jobbik had homosexual supporters.”

Only this summer, Mr. Vona still expressed his opposition to the Budapest Pride march. By this autumn, he had moderated his position.

“What happens there, in many respects, is not agreeable to me…During the last seven years of the Orbán government we have truly come to appreciate the importance of personal freedoms and the importance of the right to assembly. As such, I do not want to ban anyone from legally marching, so long as this march does not offend the sensitivities of others,” responded Mr. Vona. The implication is that for the first time, the leader of Jobbik accepts, though perhaps with some reticence, the right to hold a Pride parade in Budapest.

But Magyar Nemzet expressed doubt that a liberal voter, who is well aware of Jobbik’s far-right past, would easily vote for Mr. Vona’s party. The party chairman responded:

“I have stepped out of this political constellation. If you look at Momentum’s or LMP’s declarations, they say the same thing. The new parties feel that this is what is needed. We cannot grind ourselves down in the divisiveness of our parents’ and grandparents’ generation. I admit that it is very difficult to ask someone who was crippled by fascism or communism to move on. But I would suggest to Hungarian society that we try to look to the future.”

That future, should Jobbik form government or part of a future government, would focus on ensuring that Viktor Orbán and Fidesz is held accountable for the state of systemic corruption since 2010.

“I believe that Viktor Orbán is behind the corruption in Hungary. However, holding him to account is not the job of the government, but rather the duty of the appropriate authorities. Our role is to restore their freedoms. Today people are not held accountable because the State Prosecutor’s Office, headed by Péter Polt, prevents this from happening,” remarked Mr. Vona.

The Jobbik platform also calls for the creation of an independent Ministry of Health, which currently forms part of the massive and unruly Ministry of Human Capacities. Jobbik would increase public spending in health care to bring it back to levels seen in most EU countries and offer more competitive wages to health care professionals. Jobbik would also oppose large-scale migration to the European Union, but unlike Fidesz, it would not launch hysterical anti-Soros campaigns in Hungary. Instead, a Jobbik government would argue the merits of its position in the relevant European Union forums, in an attempt to move EU public opinion and sway policy-makers.

Thus far, public opinion polling does not seem to indicate that Mr. Vona’s move to the centre-right has expanded Jobbik’s voter base. If anything, Jobbik support has been stagnating at a somewhat lower level than what the party garnered in the 2014 elections. Mr. Vona, however, is convinced that the large number of “undecided” voters or those who refuse to give an answer means that Hungarians are afraid to share their true voting intentions, adding that they have good reason to fear under the current Orbán regime. It will be worth watching whether a book by Henrik Havas, palatable to a large cross section of voters, may move these numbers.

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