BUDAPEST, Hungary — The head of Hungary’s far-right Jobbik party said Monday he will “prune” racist views from the organization and become the main challenger of Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s Fidesz party in the 2018 elections.
Jobbik president, Gabor Vona, said that their candidate’s narrow victory in a rural by-election on Sunday shows the party has a big chance to defeat Fidesz three years from now.
Analysts attribute Jobbik’s success in part to Vona’s shift to a more centrist, mainstream message, avoiding extremist or radical views, like the anti-Semitic or anti-Gypsy statements made earlier by party politicians.
Peter Kreko, director of the Political Capital Institute, said “Jobbik has become a people’s party with very strong support across the whole country and in every voter segment.”
On Sunday over 10,000 people joined Hungary’s annual “March of Life” commemorating the Holocaust, as World Jewish Congress president Ronald Lauder denounced the Jobbik party as “extremist.”
In a speech at the end of the procession, Lauder called Jobbik an “extremist party that promotes hate.”
Condemning a Jobbik deputy who recently spat on a Holocaust memorial in Budapest, Lauder said the party damaged Hungary’s image abroad.
“Jobbik may think they are true Hungarians trying to save Hungary, but Jobbik hurts Hungary,” said Lauder, an American whose grandparents were Hungarian.
“The Hungarian Jewish community is not going anywhere. We march today to say: We are here. We are alive. And here we will remain,” he added.
Around 600,000 Hungarian Jews perished in World War II. Only 100,000 survived the Holocaust, mostly in Budapest.