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Gabor Vona, chairman of the far right Jobbik party, speaks during an interview with Reuters in Budapest, April 14, 2015. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo

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By Marton Dunai

BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Hungary's far-right Jobbik party will revamp its top ranks in an attempt to present itself as a credible alternative to the ruling centre-right Fidesz and Prime Minister Viktor Orban in 2018 elections, the party's leader said on Friday.

That includes sacking half of the party's board of six vice chairs at a congress due in a month and a half.

Jobbik has been the strongest opposition party since the last elections in 2014 and has gradually moved towards the political centre from its hard-line roots that have included anti-Semitic and xenophobic elements.

Fidesz, whose standing was bolstered last year by a tough line on immigration, has considered Jobbik its chief rival.

Jobbik's Gabor Vona told a news conference he would sack the vice chairs at the congress where he will have a veto over their candidacies.

"We have new goals for the next two years: assume power and govern," Vona said. "We would like to have a leadership that can do that. I would like to include in our board some of the Jobbik mayors, people who have practical leadership experience."

The decision caused a turmoil in the party and infuriated some in Jobbik's radical base.

"This is a slaughterhouse for radicals," Viktor Szlavik, a former Jobbik candidate in southern Hungary, wrote on Facebook. "This is just toeing the Fidesz line."

Elod Novak, one of the vice chairmen to be forced out, said he felt "stunned" and said he might be forced to leave Parliament too.

"We will cease to be the heirs of Attila the Hun if becoming a people's party means embracing a politically correct, careful traditionalism," he said. "We will become the same servants of big money as every party and government since (1989)."

Political Capital analyst Peter Kreko said Vona's manoeuvre was risky but held a big potential gain.

"Vona was the face of the very radical Jobbik and is now the face of a milder Jobbik. That is a difficult manoeuvre, a risky step that could cost the party its unity," Kreko said.

He added there were signs that Vona was disarming opponents rather than making an ideological shift. He left in place former skinhead leader Tamas Sneider as a vice chairman, for instance.

"This has more to do with publicity and gutting his internal opposition than ideological cleansing. Vona is gambling: he can win big and become a more serious challenger to Fidesz in 2018, or lose big, even wrecking the party in the process."

(Editing by Jeremy Gaunt.)

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