Hungary Prepares for Elections

Manny Becerra via Unsplash

With the approaching 2022 general elections, Hungary will be given yet another chance to show its true colors and decide how much its citizens are committed to its European and American allies. After high hopes of defeating the governing party, Fidesz, in 2018, were not met with success, there is renewed optimism in the chances for next year and now there is a new leader, Péter Márki-Zay, to back these sentiments with substance.

A Surprise Figure

The masterstroke of Fidesz, the party in absolute power since 2010, has been the exploit of all the minor differences between opposition parties. Egos, unrealistic ambitions, and a good deal of manipulation from Fidesz has stopped the opposition from uniting despite previous efforts. This changed after Fidesz gained a two-third majority (required to have virtually absolute power, for instance, to change the constitution, which it did) for the third time.

Left- and right-wing parties agreed to hold primaries, an institution hitherto not established in Hungarian politics, to decide on individual candidates for the parliamentary elections and on a prime-minister candidate behind whom the parties will unite.

The two favorites for the latter position were Klára Dobrev, a Member of the European Parliament, and a wife of the previous prime minister, and Gergely Karácsony, the mayor of Budapest. The other contenders were expected to resign during the second round (if they make it that far) of the primary elections in favor of the two most prominent candidates.

In the first round, a third candidate saw a stellar rise: Péter Márki-Zay, the mayor of a small town in eastern Hungary. He has no party backing, albeit he is the leader of a successful movement, the Everybody’s Hungary Movement. He was expected to be among the last in the primaries, but in several constituencies he came up first.

During the campaign in the second round of the election, to everyone’s surprise, Gergely Karácsony announced that he is withdrawing his candidacy in favor of Márki-Zay, who also gained the support of Momentum, a party whose candidate did not make it to the second round. In the end Márki-Zay won the primaries, and now has a good chance of beating Fidesz, which was unprepared for this scenario, in 2022.

What Is at Stake?

Fidesz has been running expensive ad campaigns about the left threatening Hungary, about the menace of the previous prime minister, Ferencs Gyurcsány, coming back. Gyurcsány, who, in 2006, as the head of the government admitted in a leaked tape that he was lying, cheating and stealing to get this far. He is so hated, that his unpopularity contributed to the success of Fidesz, which still uses him as the Boogeyman.

Thus, it would have benefitted the governing party to have his wife, Klára Dobrev, as the main candidate of the opposition. For years, Fidesz has tried to discredit every opposition politician by claiming he or she is the stooge of Gyurcsány. Now, there are billboards claiming the same of Márki-Zay, but it is a hard sell.

The 2022 elections are not going to be about the right versus the left. It is going to be about Fidesz versus democratic values. The left and the right united against the government. Fidesz gained prominence as a right-wing party fighting against the communists, the Soviet Union, and for Western values.

Now, Fidesz is making shady deals with Vladimir Putin and the Chinese Communist Party, and they are using Prime Minister Viktor Orbán to sow discord in the EU and undermine the effort of liberal democracies to stop the spread of autocratic influences.

Despite the billboards touting otherwise, Mári-Zay has no ties to Gyurcsány, a main factor behind his victory. On the political spectrum, he is more to the right than to the left, but has the potential to unify ideologies in defeating a regime that has none.

Márki-Zay has held no position during communism (even Viktor Orbán was a secretary of the local communist youth organization), nor was he a member of any previous party, or associated with corruption. As Hungary is one of the most corrupt countries in the EU, not being entangled in corruption is not as common as it should be.

Both Gyucsány, and his wife, Klára Dobrev, are recognized as shrewd politicians, matched only by the ruthless cunning of Viktor Orbán. However, the primaries showed that márki-Zay does not lack political acumen either, with the added benefit of being able to unite both the left and the right, the youth and the elderly, both Budapest and the countryside as well.

His commitment to liberal democracy, to Western values, to an economy where talents are rewarded rather than ties to the government and corruption, make him a valuable ally for the EU and countries committed to freedom and liberty.

There is a long way to go before the election, but the opposition is given a real chance despite the undemocratic efforts of the government to retain power. If Márki-Zay manages to utilize his momentum, to keep up high hopes, and if he manages to keep the opposition united, Hungary will witness a very exciting election indeed.

Continue exploring:

Lessons From the Hungarian Opposition Primaries

Elections in the Czech Republic: Exciting and Confusing

Mate Hajba
Free Market Foundation