On January 12, 2022, the Republikon Institute organized the “Finish Line” conference, where political science experts and researchers discussed the possible results of the upcoming Hungarian elections in April.
With the primary elections, the opposition parties now form a coalition, and Péter Márki-Zay is their prime minister candidate.
Where are the parties now? – asked Gábor Horn, as moderator of the evening – starting off the discussion. The participating guests expressed that there is still a level of uncertainty after the events of the primaries.
“The opposition is getting used to the new situation”; “the opposition is a fresh formation; the voters are getting used to the new situation”; “there is no doubt that the opposition’s paralysis is the talk of the press”.
Ágoston Sámuel Mráz of the pro-government Nézőpont Institute added: “Many on the left believe that Péter Márki-Zay has not fulfilled the hopes of the left’, that the ‘celebrations after the primaries seem to be turning into a tragicomedy” – but these were not surprising, nor was the fact that he spoke about the poll showing that one in two voters would vote for Fidesz, a 3 percentage point increase compared to 2018, compared to 43 percent for the opposition, a 6 percentage point decrease for the opposition as a whole. But even Mráz said that the elections could go either way.
The other three participants agreed, even though they all mentioned several unfortunate circumstances as given. Among these:
- the much greater financial resources of Fidesz;
- the unequal media relations;
- the inequalities in the electoral system, such as the fact that Hungarians living abroad, who are also given the opportunity to vote by post, are essentially guaranteed one or even two votes for the governing party, while those living abroad and with permanent Hungarian residence can only vote at consulates;
- gerrymandering in the constituencies;
- and that fictitious addresses were legalised by the government majority last November.
“At least the opposition is aware of the circumstances. They know what to expect. It is not an ideal situation where they are at a disadvantage and the political parties are not on equal footing, but they cannot change that situation, the important thing is to be prepared for it,” Andrea Virág concluded.
This is the case, but the opposition can retain its mobility within the obstacle course that is Fidesz’s voting system. “If the government does not further change the electoral system”, which Ágoston Sámuel Mráz says is out of the question, because then it would be true that the government has acted unfairly, and this accusation would not be just a political product of the opposition. Which he believes is the case right now.
Split in Two?
Apart from the above, however, polling data shows that the political space has once again become bifurcated – no longer is there a central forcefield of Fidesz, from which the opposition to the right and left cannot find each other – a force comparable to Fidesz has emerged – albeit diverse and sometimes fumbling.
The last time this happened was in 2006, Róbert László said. The Political Capital analyst said this is certainly a new situation, and as for the uncertainty of the past few weeks, it is not necessarily “fatal”: last June, he said, many saw the opposition primaries as ‘pointless’ when the haggling and backtracking was going on.
Then, in most constituencies, there was real competition, real campaigning, and real debate, which society was very hungry for, and the primaries were a success.
Once the opposition campaign gets going, László said, the opposition’s dilly-dallying of the past two months could be forgotten. He says the driving force behind this on the opposition side could be the local constituency campaign of the 106 individual MPs because they, unlike in 2014 and 2018, now have a real chance of standing in the elections.
The Possibility of a Rigged Election
The above speculation is nuanced by doubts about the purity of the election, in particular the legalized vote-tourism with fictitious addresses and the redrawing of electoral boundaries, highlighted by László. For years, László has been requesting these data from the relevant authorities on a weekly basis, in vain, which he considers suspicious to say the least.
Now, in a tense situation, they could make a real difference, especially if the two or three seats that seem to be secured by the cross-border and nationality votes are taken into account.
“The election of nationality MPs is really the worst part of the whole electoral system, the nationality voters get to choose from one option. There is only one list in the hands of the voter,” said Laszlo, noting that the first, preferential seat is decided by the nationality council, so the voter does not really have a meaningful say.
“Before 2010 they didn’t even have this” – Mráz defended the current system, saying that there is no need to fear voter tourism, and that any surge in the number of voters can be checked retrospectively from the data on Valasztas.hu.
“I’d be the happiest if it turned out that the people who checked in to the crumbling barns were not voter tourists,” László retorted. – I wish we weren’t right in assuming that electoral reasons motivate the existence of fictitious addresses.”
Mráz expressed that he believes everyone should avoid building the myth of a rigged election, which is in Fidesz’s interest. Who decides whether the elections were rigged or not? Although the Organization for Security and Co-Operation in Europe (OSCE) is sending observers, Mráz believes that these people are often biased in favor of the left.
He said that it was important to verify the fairness of the election so that there would be no scenes like the one at the public media building – recalling the attempt by Ákos Hadházy and his family to enter the publicly funded institution as MPs, from which they were eventually pushed out by guards, which the Constitutional Court did not find unlawful (the burning down of the same building in 2006 would probably be what comes to my mind when it comes to scenes we should avoid)
According to Andrea Virág, the fact that the opposition is now likely to have delegates everywhere is an advantage compared to 2018 in ensuring the fairness of the elections. But she warned against the opposition instinctively crying fraud: it is “a double-edged sword. It is important to raise awareness”, but “it can also be demotivating” to hear from a not particularly committed voter that the election will be rigged anyway.
What Can We Expect Until April?
As a slight detour, Horn suggested that the email addresses collected through the vaccinations could be used by the government for campaigning, as suddenly a lot of people have received informative messages from the government about what will make their lives better in 2022. “I think this is electoral fraud.”
“I guess that didn’t make you a Fidesz candidate. Write a letter of complaint to stop asking for more of these letters.” – Replied Mráz.
Tibor Závecz brought up the latest announcement by Viktor Orbán, fixing the prices of some essential food products. “Orbán is no longer announcing welfare measures every Friday, but at any time, and this is part of the campaign. That’s what you can expect,” he said, noting that fixing the price of petrol is also overwhelmingly popular.
What kind of party is Fidesz then? – Horn asked, referring to the left wing-right wing dimensions of the ruling party.
“Fidesz is a right-wing party, but it also claims the votes of left-wing voters,” Mráz clarified.
“And therefore, it makes a plethora of moves reminiscent of communist times.” Horn concluded.
Mráz stated that the government was successful in thematizing their campaign, while the opposition preferred to ignore the Child Protection Act, the discussion around the new president, and Covid, instead “for a month and a half the “migrant-counter” Péter Márki-Zay had been running on his initiative, and the opposition had preferred to focus on the rejection of the reduction of the overhead tax, which has now taken a turn.
“As for the corruption, the City Hall case will always be a foregone conclusion,” which has been brought up often in right-wing media recently, although the circumstances of said case are still blurry and indicate the possibility of meddling from both sides – just as likely a setup against Gergely Karácsony as a real case of misconduct on the side of the city administration.
Andrea Virág said that it was indeed difficult to say what the main campaign theme of the opposition was, there was no mention of an epidemic, László mentioned that it was visually strange that the opposition party leaders announced their programs without a common candidate for the head of government, only Závecz was more permissive, who said that for how late it was, much had come together in the unity of the opposition.
All in all, while not entirely undoubtful, the experts agreed that this year’s election might come down to the wire, and that the opposition has work to do in order to keep it that way, or potentially, snatch the lead.