April 20, 2016, marked the beginning of a brand new chapter in the history of the Hungarian radical right-wing party, Jobbik. The party’s leader, Gábor Vona, declared emblematic party leaders Előd Novák, István Szávay, and István Apáti shall not run for the office of the party’s vice president. According to their spokesman, the reason behind this decision is that the party has to face new challenges. The vacant positions will be charged up by successful mayors from the countryside. This is a surprising development, because the radical party’s inner struggles were always dealt with in private. We know that the president called vice presidents to his office, one by one, to dismiss them and then he immediately informed the press. Gábor Vona did not even try to keep this matter private.
One interpretation of the isituation is that Gábor Vona is willing to rebuild the party, with only himself in power. The dismissed vice presidents had one thing in common: They were not afraid to oppose the president on ideological questions. Now Vona is building himself a position not unlike Victor Orban has in Fidesz: autocratic and all-powerful. Having said this, being open to the press seems to have been a tool of demonstrating his power, to show who calls the shots in Jobbik. Another interpretation, according to Ádám Mirkóczi, Jobbik spokesman, is that the next two years will be about making the party suitable for governance. In order to this, two things are needed: The party needs to reduce the influence of its radical wing, to be more presentable, both at home and abroad. They also need to move to the left on the moderate-radical scale, in order to gain traction among the disenchanted Fidesz supporters.
Whichever scenario turns out to be true, it is easy to see similarities between the political strategy of Gábor Vona and Viktor Orbán. Just like Orbán, Vona is also capable of enforcing his will in his party, even by eliminating his internal opposition. In an earlier speech, he explained, that “You can learn a lot from Orban, in Hungarian politics. I do not demonize him like the left-wing does. I observe what he does and build in what I can into my strategy.” This speech supports the idea that Vona follows the well-tried “Orban-way”. Being able to adapt is also an Orban-like feature; the ability to always take the side which is the most beneficial to him and his party – even if it is not ideologically consistent. This strategy has already been used by Jobbik. When they had to build stable voter support, the fresh party adopted a radical face, utilizing racism, antisemitism, and anti-roma rhetoric. Now that they have stable support in Hungary, Vona switched to more moderate political image.
Maybe this current dispute is part of this very conscious strategy. It would be too soon to say whether Jobbik will be torn apart by the inner struggles caused by the dismissal of the three influential vice presidents. It does seem to be necessary for Gábor Vona to become more moderate if he is looking to win the elections in 2018.