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July 2011

Political Prognosis

One of the most significant political trends of July was the strengthened support for Jobbik, as demonstrated by a major polling company. Jobbik is the only party the poll numbers of which have not followed a clear trend since the elections last year. With Fidesz, for instance, the trend was obvious: the party has been losing support continuously - first at a slow, then at an increasing rate. In contrast, Jobbik lost support in the autumn of last year only to regain it this summer, thereby reaching numbers comparable to its actual results of 2010.

The political strategy pursued by Jobbik since April 2010 can be divided to three phases. Right after the elections, the party assumed a relatively moderate stance, trying to bid out its time and attempting to be a 'constructive' opposition party. Unlike the Socialists, Jobbik intended to take part in the euphoria surrounding the election of Fidesz.

This strategy - according to which Jobbik was more confrontational with the Socialists than with the governing Fidesz - lasted until the autumn. After the municipal elections, Fidesz embarked upon a course to change the entire institutional framework of Hungarian politics, which left all opposition parties - including Jobbik - in a disadvantageous position. Partly in response to this, Jobbik changed its strategy to one of defending the rights of the opposition: it used more and more opportunities to challenge Fidesz on constitutional issues and acted more and more like a 'classical' opposition party. This strategy, however, had three unhelpful consequences. Firstly, the party appeared as a defender of the 1989 constitutional changes - which was hardly a position shared by its voters. In addition, as a result of its more classical opposition role, the statements of Jobbik started to resemble those of the Socialists and LMP. Most importantly, Jobbik begun to appear as a decidedly establishment party - even thought it gut into Parliament on the promise of removing the political establishment.

In the beginning of 2011, Jobbik turned back to its traditional themes to compensate for these weaknesses. It recommenced attacks on the economic record of the government from a populist-leftist direction and used every available opportunity to exploit the intolerance of some segments of the Hungarian population against all kinds of minorities, especially the roma people. This change of strategy resulted in the party gaining back most of its former popularity by the summer.

Nevertheless, this more radical strategy is plagued by internal contradictions and difficulties, most important of which is the contradiction between the protest attitude of the party and its desire to be seen as a viable governing party. It is as yet unclear what idea - if any - Jobbik has of reconciling its anti-establishment rhetoric and policies with the requirements of a responsible party seen as being able to replace Fidesz in government. Another dilemma concerns the ambiguity between the positioning of the party and the realities of its electoral position: unlike the Socialists, the party would need to convince its voters that it is capable of defeating Fidesz alone, which is not a credible notion.

Fidesz announced its plans for the reform of the electoral system, generating controversy as well as speculation, and tempting LMP deputy parliamentary group leader Gergely Karácsony to propose a so-called 'technical coalition': an electoral agreement between the Socialists, LMP and Jobbik to defeat Fidesz and undo the constitutional changes. The most important feature of the new electoral system is the change from a two- to a one round system. The beneficiary of this new scheme is the party coalition or political block which is more united; the new system makes political manoeuvring between rounds impossible and necessitates the formation of political alliances prior to the election.

The introduction of such a system makes it clear that Fidesz expects the so-called 'central party system' to survive until 2014, as this electoral arrangement is most suited to such a setup. Nonetheless, should this calculation prove incorrect, the change itself might backfire: if there is a strong competitor on the left, the abolishment of the second round hurts Fidesz as it deprives it of potential Jobbik voters in the second round and facilitates the settling of differences between MSZP and LMP.