Almost every Hungarian party is eager to promote that the stakes have never been as high as now with the legislative election of 2018 coming rapidly. At the beginning of next year’s election campaign, it is obvious that the subject of the messages of our government parties have fundamentally changed during their two terms in office. Meanwhile, the official governmental communication is reaching an all-time low point, none of the people in position are interested in whether the people agree with their change of tone or not. Is it an effective way that Fidesz is following to make itself reelected again?
Before the general election in 2010, it was easy to believe that Fidesz is the only party that is popular enough to address the unsatisfied Hungarians who lost confidence in the unpopular socialists. With the Fidesz being also the only party that has offered coherent and capable power to change government, they could successfully integrate voters who were crucial to their win. Including those who were disappointed with the previous governments, the elderly, the intellectuals, and temporarily Budapest-based, who have always been the strongest base of left-wing parties.
Fidesz voters were legitimately hoping that alternative policies and elemental reforms will be the most important governmental issues after the elections, but their desire to see these alterations in the direction of politics has been fulfilled only partially. Instead of putting huge emphasis on their long-planned policy changes, the government has gotten into a new role that was absolutely unusual before. It might have seemed to be a more successful election strategy to flaunt themselves as the defenders of the nation, and focus on enemies like ‘Brussels’, and other highly recognized international organizations that were respected formerly.
The success of the modified strategy was confirmed when the Fidesz could easily win reelection in 2014, in spite of the fact that they had refused to publish an official party program. They were campaigning only with the ‘Folytatjuk!’ slogan – meaning ‘We will keep on!’ – what proved to be enough. Many voters could see even at that time that this kind of simplified campaign messages is not the promoter of a democratic dialogue.
The government parties were obviously not in a position where they had to risk to address new voter groups or reach out to anyone outside their solid voter base. Since then it is becoming clear that this change of their election strategy was a well-constructed and intentional political move. The migration crisis of 2015 was an indispensable opportunity for Fidesz, allowing them to play safe in the role of the defenders of the nation. The interpretation of policy changes was replaced with the tones of a negative campaign that was likely to hold together the right-wing voter base. The possession of everyday issues also became easier with the creation of a common enemy.
However, with the transformation of government communication, the core of Fidesz voters has also changed notably. From then on, their main agenda has been to keep easily understandable topics in the media, cases which do not require any kind of reasoning. While serious public questions are not up for debate or mutual discussion.
As a matter of fact, the number of Fidesz voters has only fluctuated, but not changed significantly since the last elections in 2014. Apart from the numbers, it is important to mention that most of the opinion polls show that their supporters are continuously getting more homogenous. The party that once successfully addressed most layers of the Hungarian society and mobilized them to vote is now ready to serve its own voter base who keep them in power. Not even trying with those millions who are not considered to be their electorate.
Besides the slowly reducing number of right-wing conservatives, intellectuals and white-collar supporters more and more undereducated and mainly rural voters tend to share the interests of Fidesz. Of course, the system of NER1 is constantly emphasizing that every government decision was made based on a consensus of the society, but they align it with their own projects. These government-financed indications include the 2016 referendum on migration issues or the so-called national consultations where the given questions could not be answered right as the choices were manipulated, leaving no place for real opinions thus also suggesting that the government has only one aim, to keep their voter base indivisible and other voices unheard.
Forthcoming Election in Hungary
Today, the next year’s election seems that it shall be easily won by the current government majority, which is also favored by the modified electoral system and redrawn districts that have been introduced by the governmentin the previous cycle. Despite these advantages, we should not forget that members of the crucial electorate groups have started to gradually alienate from the views of their once supported Fidesz.
Currently it seems that the satisfaction of the certain Fidesz voters will be enough for a decent absolute majority that allows the party to go on as a government party. However, the time is slowly proving that status quo is not likely to be the best strategy to stay in power in a long-term perspective. It might easily backfire if they rely only on demobilization and campaign without addressing the disappointed Fidesz supporters and the undecided majority. In order to achieve an absolute majority, the government parties need to obtain almost every constituency as their party list result would only be enough for a relative majority. Knowing this, those who were disillusioned with the Fidesz or those who wish for a government change can easily jeopardize the plan of voter demobilization in single member districts.
In many cases, government communication is ineffective or misleads members of important electoral groups. The best example of this problem is the right-wing’s popularity decline in the temporarily obtained Budapest, where the so-called quota referendum that was held in October 2016 can ‘boast’ the lowest voter turnout compared to the country as a whole, showing that these dividing government messages go unnoticed within a large rate of the population.
Other examples include the referendum initiative which was proposed by the Momentum Movement against Budapest’s bid for the 2024 Olympic Games. This uprising against the one-sided decision of the city council was soon so popular that the mayor, also coming from the party of Fidesz, had to withdraw the official bid half a year before the announcement of the host city. In spite of the fact that the city council and the government have previously decided to spend tremendous amounts of public money on promoting the Olympics to the locals and also on a nationwide level. The best index-number of the dissatisfaction of the dwellers of Budapest is the almost 300 thousand signatures for the referendum about the Olympic bid that was collected in the middle of the coldest January of the last decade. However, this consent-creating opportunity was soon repressed by the government as it wanted to avoid the opposition backing a popular case that could severely damage the prestige of Fidesz.
A few months later the adaptation of the modified higher education bill that was created against the Central European University and the numerous infringement procedures launched by the European Commission also show that the current Hungarian government and its parliamentary majority are not interested in neither foreign nor domestic criticism. It was a sign that the Fidesz does not want to meet the expectations of the conservative intellectuals or the urban white collars anymore.
The protests of this year may also show an irritating phenomenon for the Fidesz, namely the presence of young, first-time voter generation in great numbers, those who cannot identify themselves with the current direction of givernmental policies. It may be in connection with the generally negative perspective of the youth including the difficulties of taking part in higher education, the lack of grant increases, and housing benefits. The government actually hides all of its family policies behind the term ‘youth policy’. Needless to say, these actions do not help those youngsters who have just started their university studies or have just entered the labor market with no real experience often with problematic financial background. Neither the prevention of migration of the young labor force nor the creation of attractive future opportunities is a priority anymore. We can make sure day by day that the ability of comprehensive system reforms and the necessary innovation has been lost by the actual governing elite, which would be essential for a healthy political life.
In order to keep their electoral base together, they are willing to focus on issues which can be easily understood by even those who are politically under-informed, also trying to strengthen the citizens’ emotional involvement for political gains. Another tool used frequently by the government is to occasionally offer smaller financial rewards for special groups, introducing such benefits as once-in-a-while welfare measures. These usually target the pensioners or people in need who coincidentally tend to be more politically active and are getting overrepresented in the Fidesz voter base. At the same time they forget about the general opinion about the poor situation of the healthcare system and the insufficient social welfare system, which affect the life standard of the elderly and the sick in general. Leaving us no doubts that these ‘once-in-a-while’ gestures are only effective in terms of avoiding popularity and influence loss but are not leading to any long-term accomplishments.
Drawing Political Conclusions
The society is slowly recognizing that these are usually politically motivated measures to find the solutions to our most pressing problems. Sweeping real policy questions (like education, healthcare, and a pension system reform) under the rug is unacceptable for the responsible majority. Common dissatisfaction will soon reach a level when real actions must be taken and so the government will need to deal with the problems we want them to solve and not merely focus on pursuing communication governing style.
The current political environment is pretty favorable for the Fidesz party and its small coalition partner (the christian democrats). On the other hand, the main opposition party, the Hungarian Socialist Party, has led itself to the verge of complete irrelevance with their prime minister candidate resigning from the nomination. Also leaving the smaller left-wing and social liberal parties divided with no powerful leadership they can stand behind.
In the meantime, a brand new party in the Hungarian political life, Momentum Movement, has recently published its program for the next year, what was widely anticipated by the public and other politicians. Their vision, compared to other opposition power among the ongoing chaos and the far-fetched Fidesz slogans, is hopeful even if its details are not entirely coherent yet.
One thing is certain: the election of 2018 is going to be a dividing point for the whole Hungarian political system. It may change the role of the opposition, the position of the relevant parties, and the public way of thinking about the political culture. Today, with no serious challenger of Fidesz, it is easy to integrate a solid electoral base every four years when their seats are up for election, but sooner or later the undecided, the unaddressed, and the disappointed will make their ignored voices heard. They are going to realize that they are the unrepresented majority, being day by day present in the system yet unaware of their bargaining power.
1 Fidesz uses this phrase ‘System of National Cooperation (NER)’ for the the post-2010 governmental system.