Hungary after the election: Continuing on Orbán’s path

Hungary after the election: Continuing on Orbán’s path

Hungary has become a laboratory of illiberal governance tailor-made to serve Fidesz’s goals. Its rhetoric is based on identity politics, conspiracy theories and enemy images. It has a massive Government-financed fake news industry. After this ellection a shift to a more moderate stance is not expected.

Seats in the new national assembly in Hungary – Creator: valasztas.hu. Public Domain.

The governing Fidesz gained a two-thirds majority in the National Assembly with 48% of the votes this year (based on currently available data), compared to 52.7% of the party list votes in 2010 and 43.7% in 2014 (among votes cast within Hungarian borders).[1] Hungary has become a successful laboratory of illiberal governance with an institutional system tailor-made to serve Fidesz’s purposes and goals, an unfair system. Its political rhetoric is based on identity politics, conspiracy theories and enemy images, and it has a massive Government-financed fake news industry. Because the Government has received positive feedback from voters, a shift to a more moderate stance is not expected.

Election results

According to currently available data, Fidesz has gained 364 203 new voters since 2014. Considering the fact that in the past four general elections polling organisations had always measured Fidesz’s popularity as higher than it actually was, it could also have been expected in 2018 that voters whose party preference was unknown would rather have supported the opposition, but this is not what happened in the election. The main reasons for this are the success of the campaign focusing on the migration threat and the operation of a system based on feudal dependency on Fidesz, especially in smaller settlements.

The main consequence of this was that Fidesz alone gained strength in this election compared to its result in 2014; Jobbik largely kept its votes from 2014, while centre-left parties merely repartitioned the same amount of votes they had four years ago (in 2014, the MSZP-DK-Együtt-PM-MLP list and LMP received 1 558 151 votes altogether, while in 2018 the lists of MSZP-Párbeszéd, DK, Együtt, LMP, Momentum and MKKP received 1 538 434 votes on the ballots tallied so far). Moreover, the opposition lost 272 000 of those 1.6 million votes (Momentum, Együtt, MKKP), which explains why Fidesz seems to be winning exactly as many seats in the National Assembly as they did in 2014 despite the fact that they just lost five more single-member constituencies than four years ago. However, the number of votes cast for bogus parties fell from 181 000 to 68 000.

Domestic votes cast on party lists – Creator: Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung. Creative Commons License LogoThis image is licensed under Creative Commons License.The number of Fidesz voters fell among individuals with higher social status, those who live in the capital, and the better educated. At the same time, Fidesz’s popularity grew considerably among those living in villages, small towns, the less educated and old people. It was primarily the latter whom the government’s campaign focusing solely on the migration threat could influence. Election results seem to support this theory, in villages Fidesz’s campaign led to a high voter turnout and a high share of votes for Fidesz. The result of this is that Fidesz could beat Jobbik in all single-member constituencies in the countryside except for one (Dunaújváros).

Jobbik

Jobbik might have become the strongest opposition party in the National Assembly, but its results were well below its own expectations. The party’s leaders find themselves in a tough spot: chairman Gábor Vona resigned and did not accept his mandate in the National Assembly either, announcing that he would continue to help Jobbik, but only from the background.

It is a huge question how Jobbik’s politics will evolve in the next cycle, whether the post-2013 moderation strategy will be reversed towards a more radical direction (as the party’s radicals would have it). Jobbik is divided on the question internally, as giving up on the “moderation” strategy would not necessary lead to success for the party considering that the majority of the party’s supporters voted for it specifically because of that strategy, and the far-right political field has largely been conquered by Fidesz.

The left-wing opposition

The fragmented left-wing opposition’s main result is that it beat Fidesz in the capital. The opposition won 12 out of the 18 single-member constituencies. They would have won five of the six they eventually lost if there had been coordination among the leftist parties. The division between Budapest and the countryside has become even deeper. Outside of the capital, left-wing candidates could only win in one single-member constituency. The leftist candidate was re-elected in Szeged, and a mandate was won in Pécs by independent candidate Tamás Mellár.

The root causes of this are: (1) The leftist opposition lacks an organisational structure in the countryside - they basically exist only in the capital and some larger county seats; (2) They were focusing on survival, on rivalry with each other, and on becoming the strongest opposition party instead of on victory; (3) There are presumably politicians representing the Government’s interests in every opposition party; (4) There is no common political identity that could provide a basis for organising. All these factors would have to change to reverse this trend.

The illiberal political system will be completed

It is also important to note that the political environment built by Fidesz after 2010 did not provide the opposition with equal opportunities. Although more and more information has been surfacing since the end of the general election about electoral fraud, the electoral system itself was not the central issue - rather, the institutional system surrounding it was. As the OSCE noted, the state and the governing party were inseparable during the election campaign.

The State Audit Office punished only opposition parties during the campaign. The media environment in some regions of the country, especially in villages and small towns, created an informational ghetto where only the Government’s campaign based on generating fears about migration was able succeed. Corruption cases with ties to the Government have not been properly investigated by the authorities, especially by the Office of the Prosecutor-General.

Considering that Fidesz has received this positive feedback from voters, their style of governance is not going to change in the wake of the election result. High voter turnout and a confident majority in the National Assembly provides the necessary legitimacy to the Government to complete the political system it has built in the past eight years and to allow for even more repressive, authoritarian power politics.

The Government is going to further restrict the space for critical media and civil society organisations, and it will continue its governance by putting enemy images, conspiracy theories and fake news at the heart of its messaging. Two days after the election, it was already announced that two outlets from the media portfolio of former Fidesz-ally turned Fidesz-critic Lajos Simicska (the daily Magyar Nemzet and Lánchíd radio) would be closed down. The “Stop Soros” legislative package aimed at dissolving critical NGOs could be approved by the new National Assembly as early as May. This measure will mark the beginning of Viktor Orbán’s fourth legislative cycle.[2]

This article is part of our ongoing dossier Focus on Hungary.

 

[1] The votes cast in Hungarian foreign representations and the ballots of those requesting to vote elsewhere than the polling station designated for them originally will be counted on April 14, which could alter the results in some single-member constituencies, albeit the likelihood of this is low. At the same time, only 100,000 of in-mail votes have been counted, so Fidesz’s two-thirds majority is rarely in doubt.

[2] Viktor Orbán first served as prime minister between 1998-2002, then he was re-elected in 2010, 2014 and now in 2018.

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