Hungarians Reelect Nationalist Premier, Boost for Far Right

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán wins a parliamentary election that also sees gains for the far right.

Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán arrives at a European People's Party summit in Brussels, March 1, 2012
Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán arrives at a European People’s Party summit in Brussels, March 1, 2012 (EPP)

Hungarians reelected the nationalist prime minister Viktor Orbán in a parliamentary election on Sunday, early results showed, and turned out in greater numbers for the far-right Jobbik party.

While Orbán’s national conservative Fidesz party lost support compared to the last election, down from nearly 53 percent in 2010 to over 48 percent, it will still likely get a majority of the seats in parliament.

Jobbik, which got almost 17 percent support in 2010, stood at nearly 22 percent in a tally that was based on a count of about a quarter of the votes. The opposition socialist bloc also stood at 22 percent.

The result for Jobbik was particularly disconcerting for the left which accuses it of being racist and antisemitic.

Orbán’s reelection came on the back of an economic uptick. While the economy contracted 1.7 percent in 2012, it grow 1.1 percent last year and is expected to expand further. Hungarians’ living standards are still a third lower than the European Union average but some of the prime minister’s policies, including a cut in electricity prices, have kept consumer confidence up and inflation down.

Policies in the last four years have included a nationalization of Hungary’s private pension scheme, sectoral surtaxes on energy and telecommunications firms as well as supermarkets and a relief scheme for homeowners that the banks mostly had to pay for.

In a scathing report, the European Commission last year said the Central European nation’s business environment had “constantly deteriorated” since Orbán was first elected in 2010 as a result of his nationalist economic program and the repeated changes in regulations.

Yet Orbán has pledged more of the same. Foreign investors fear that he will impose more levies on power companies and press ahead with a plan to transfer part of the banking sector into Hungarian ownership.

The European Commission also expressed concerns about the independence of Hungary’s judiciary. Constitutional reforms enacted in 2011 limited the supreme court’s powers and annulled all its previous rulings.

Later that year, American rating agencies downgraded Hungarian sovereign bonds to junk status citing the country’s “increasingly erratic” and “unorthodox” economic policies as well as concerns over the independence of its central bank. Central bank board members are now appointed by Orbán personally. He put his former finance minister, György Matolcsy, who designed Hungary’s nationalist economic program, at its helm last year.

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