Hungary's formerly far-right party Jobbik elected a new leader Saturday seen as likely to keep it on its current path away from its extremist roots.
Tamas Sneider, 45, was chosen as Jobbik president at a party congress, a spokesman told reporters, after former leader Gabor Vona quit last month. Sneider got 54 percent of the vote to defeat his fiercely anti-immigration rival Laszlo Toroczkai on 46 percent.
According to local media, Sneider told reporters before the closed-doors meeting that while the party needed structural renewal, his political vision "would be in large part similar to the current direction, there will not be big differences." Vona, 39, had led the party since 2006, but kept a promise to resign if Jobbik failed to beat Prime Minister Viktor Orban's ruling Fidesz party at Hungary's parliamentary election April 8.
Since 2013 Vona had steered Jobbik, once considered one of the most extreme parties in Europe, away from its ultra-nationalist, racist, and anti-Semitic origins.
Sneider has denied allegations he was a skinhead gang leader in his youth, and is seen by analysts as likely to keep the party on its more moderate path. Before Saturday's election, Sneider said that Vona's bid to mould the party into a so-called "people's party" should continue despite Jobbik's disappointing election result last month.
He also said Jobbik would be open to cooperation with other opposition parties, a shift in position from Vona's mostly go-it-alone strategy.
Jobbik won 19 percent of the national vote in April, down from 20 percent in 2014 and well behind Fidesz on 49 percent.
But Jobbik's number of seats in the 199-seat assembly increased to 26 from 23, making it the biggest opposition party.
Toroczkai had urged a return to more radical policies and hinted at a party split if he lost.
An expert on the Hungarian far-right, Peter Kreko, told AFP that the tight result reveals "a highly divided party along a centrist-radical axis". "Some of the more radical members may leave now, while a party split cannot be ruled out," said Kreko, who heads the Political Capital think-tank.
A comeback by the influential Vona - "a long distance runner" was also possible, said Kreko.
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