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Hungary's nationalist Jobbik leader quits parliament

Chairman of the Hungarian right wing opposition party Jobbik Gabor Vona attends a campaign forum in Nagykanizsa, Hungary, March 16, 2018. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo

(reuters_tickers)

BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Hungarian nationalist Jobbik party leader Gabor Vona has quit the party presidency and given up his seat in parliament following Sunday's crushing election defeat, which gave Prime Minister Viktor Orban a third successive term in power.

Vona, who entered parliament in a far-right uniform in 2010 after the global financial crisis, bowed out of national politics clad in a sleek suit and a tie, standing alone in a corridor of parliament in a black-and-white photo posted online.

"As Jobbik's prime minister candidate, I took personal responsibility for the 2018 election result," Vona said in a post on his Facebook page. "Given that the election victory did not manifest, I have kept my word."

Vona said he would continue to work with Jobbik but not as party president. Many other opposition leaders have also resigned in the wake of the election defeat.

Unable to grow larger on a far-right platform, Jobbik shifted towards the centre from 2013 and effectively traded places as Orban grew closer to the far right with his strong anti-immigration platform during Europe's migrant crisis.

But its strategy to remake itself into a moderate force, distancing itself from the racist and xenophobic platform which defined its formative years, has failed to produce the kind of breakthrough the party had hoped for.

Meanwhile, Orban's Fidesz has signalled it would use its victory to forge ahead with a crackdown on organisations promoting migrant rights as soon as parliament reconvenes - potentially paving the way for further friction with the European Union.

Analysts at Eurasia Group said Sunday's vote, where turnout exceeded that of the past three elections, was a major win for Orban, boosting his legitimacy at home and within the EU.

"He will face no checks and balances, even within his party," the analysts said in a note.

"Fidesz's landslide win will also push the opposition further into disarray. Potential leadership changes will undermine the opposition's effectiveness, giving Fidesz more unconstrained room to rule."

Jobbik's parliamentary group will have 25 lawmakers based on a preliminary tally, just one more than under the previous government term. It will be the single biggest opposition group, but leftist parties still outnumber it with 38 lawmakers.

Vona, 39, has been a Jobbik leader since its inception as a student movement in 1999.

He took advantage of resentment towards Hungary's large Roma population as a volatile propellant for his party. Vona launched a vigilante group called Hungarian Guard in 2007 and marched through Roma communities around Hungary.

(Reporting by Gergely Szakacs and Marton Dunai; Editing by Alison Williams)

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