Hungary’s centre-right opp-osition, Fidesz, claimed a landslide general election victory on Sunday after crisis-weary voters called time on eight years of Socialist rule.
Underscoring the dramatic nature of the shift to the right, Jobbik, a radical nationalist party, comfortably secured enough votes to enter the Hungarian parliament for the first time.
After long polling queues had delayed the release of official results, Viktor Orban, Fidesz’s leader and prospective prime minister, declared victory late last night and claimed Hungarians had voted “to defeat hopelessness”.
Mr Orban, who served as prime minister between 1998 and 2002, has pledged to boost employment and competitiveness in recession-hit Hungary but faces tight fiscal constraints.
With 99 per cent of the votes counted, Fidesz secured 206 of a possible 386 parliamentary seats in the first round of elections. The Socialists carried 28 seats with Jobbik gaining 26 and the green-liberal LMP winning five seats.
A two-thirds majority may be within Fidesz’s reach, which would enable it to implement big constitutional reforms. However, Fidesz has promised not to co-operate with Jobbik. A second round of elections on April 25 will decide the allocation of remaining seats.
Analysts say a strong mandate for Fidesz may buttress investor confidence in the recession-hit central European economy as it grapples with low employment and the difficult task of consolidating the budget.
Fidesz has pledged to cut taxes and create 1m jobs (for a population of 10m) over the next 10 years in order to restore economic growth. The party has warned that this year’s budget deficit target of 3.8 per cent is unachievable. But with financial markets acutely sensitive to signs of indiscipline, there is little room for unfunded spending, economists say.
Hungary turned to the International Monetary Fund in October 2008 for a €20bn ($27bn, £17.6bn) standby credit when its large public debt and a shortage of liquidity threatened the country with bankruptcy.
Prime minister Gordon Bajnai’s technocratic government passed a range of austerity measures that helped stabilise the forint and averted a catastrophe for Hungarians holding foreign currency loans.
The spending cuts won plaudits abroad but exacerbated a recession at home, leaving voters in no mood to reward this fiscal rectitude. Memories of former prime minister Ferenc Gyurcsany’s admission in 2006 that he had lied about the state of public finances to get re-elected still burn strongly in the public mindset.
Additional reporting by Kester Eddy and Thomas Escritt
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