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Vona deradicalizes Jobbik

April 20th, 2015

As Jobbik leader Gábor Vona promises to prune out racist elements from his party, columnists wonder if Jobbik can be transformed into a moderate party without losing the support of its radical core.

After the Tapolca by-election, Jobbik leader Gábor Vona announced that he would continue his project and dispel the party’s racist image so that Jobbik can become ‘a real people’s party’. His party rejects discrimination on ethnic, racial or religious grounds, he said, in a series of interviews with domestic and foreign media.

After Jobbik’s success at the Tapolca by-election, party leader Gábor Vona can press forward with the deradicaliziation of his party, András Dezső and Gergely Tóth write on Index. The liberal analysts believe that Vona’s plan to transform Jobbik into a moderate party is necessary if Jobbik wants to win the 2018 Parliamentary election. Mr Vona has, since 2013, distanced his party from the radical Hungarian Guard movement and is now trying to change the party’s anti-Semitic and anti-Roma image, the authors believe. As the popularity of the Orbán government plunges, a more moderate Jobbik is becoming increasingly attractive for voters dissatisfied with Fidesz, Dezső and Tóth note. Jobbik’s moderate rhetoric may bother but will not alienate radical voters who still believe that the party’s moderation is only a tactical move, they add. The party’s radical MPs, however, may at some point rebel if Jobbik’s now rising popularity stalls or if Mr Vona tries to get rid of the party’s overtly racist politicians.

On Mandiner, Gábor Kardos claims that Jobbik’s ‘human face’ is not only a strategic project, but he believes the party has genuinely become much more moderate than it  was a couple of years ago. The conservative philosopher’s personal experience is that Jobbik activists and sympathizers are no more racist than the average Hungarian. If Jobbik leader Vona continues to consolidate his party and marginalize its radical members, while at the same time sustaining the sympathy of his party’s radical voters, Jobbik may significantly increase its constituency, Kardos predicts.

The real challenge for Jobbik will be to keep its radical supporters, while at the same time showing a moderate face in order to attract centrist voters as well, Tamás Lánczi remarks in Mozgástér blog. The pro-government believes that if Mr Vona starts to get rid of racist elements from Jobbik, the consequences are hard to predict, since radical hardliners are unlikely to agree with such a project. Even if Vona succeeds in marginalizing radicals, an intra-Jobbik fight may still alienate moderate voters.

Magyar Demokrata’s László Szentesi Zöldi contends that the Jobbik leadership is interested only in power and money. Mr Vona, who gained notoriety with his anti-Roma and anti-Semitic slurs, now distances himself from racism and wants to rid his party from such elements. This, in Szentesi Zöldi’s interpretation, is a sign of opportunistic and unprincipled politics. Jobbik’s former ability to address the concerns of lower class voters has been dropped as the once radical party becomes the preserve of the middle class, he suggests. Szentesi Zöldi hints that this will not be an easy transformation, as the party’s core constituency is more radical in its demands than the party leadership.

In its regular weekly editorial, Magyar Narancs believes that Jobbik’s moderation project is only an empty rebranding stunt rather than a real effort to perform a shift in the radical party’s vision. While Gábor Vona is striking a more conciliatory tone, the party constantly sends messages to its radical core in order to reassure them, Magyar Narancs contends. If the party cannot increase its popularity, the more radical members may easily turn against Vona in order to return Jobbik to its radical roots, Magyar Narancs suspects.

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