Hungary Election Countdown
Setting the Scene: Parliamentary Elections in Hungary

Vote Hungary
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With the Hungarian parliamentary election taking place in a month's time and opinion polls showing Viktor Orban's governing Fidesz party and the opposition alliance “United for Hungary” running neck-and-neck, the network in cooperation with the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom presents a selection of articles, exploring the Hungarian economic conditions, media landscape, voter preferences as well as the challenges facing the united opposition in the run-up to the election.

Although it seems that the Hungarian parliamentary elections could go either way, some Hungarian political science experts and researchers point out that several unfortunate circumstances could make a real difference, as reported by the Republikon Institute. Fidesz’s much greater financial resources, unbalanced media coverage, gerrymandering in the constituencies, as well as legalized voter-tourism with fictitious addresses are raising doubts about the legitimacy of the election.

Another research conducted by Unhack Democracy interviewing over 1,000 poll workers during 2018 Hungarian Parliamentary elections revealed a systematic erosion of the country’s electoral integrity. The poll workers often did not have sufficient knowledge of the relevant laws. Moreover, Fidesz has been putting pressure on them to gather more votes for itself.

Ester Nova argues that even if Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán were replaced, his successor would be in trouble, due to powerful institutional and economic forces that Fidesz created, to mess with a potential successor government. According to Nova, Orbán is bent on leaving an empty budget, heavy-handed price controls, a mountain of debt and the full fallout from the runaway inflation to his successor.

She further points out that Orbán managed to inject unprecedented sums into his own ideological hinterland. He also changed the constitution to make it irreversible and placed plenty of landmines, in the shape of decades-long economic concessions and loyal political appointees at the helm of independent institutions, whose tenure is expected to outlast a new government.

Under pressure, Viktor Orbán reached for three things that had once worked for him: referendums, a hate campaign and bashing the previous prime minister, Ferenc Gyurcsány.

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“The opposition will have to go against a very ferocious and omnipresent disinformation and propaganda campaign”, writes Máté Hajba. The Central European Press and Media Foundation (KESMA), created by the Hungarian government in 2018, controls more than 500 of the country’s media outlets. It is therefore hard to get the facts straight for an average Hungarian reader, argues Hajba. Even if the opposition still manages to win, they will still have plenty to do to free the media in Hungary.

Zsolt Nagy points out that regardless of who wins the April elections, the new government will have to face an immense inflation, caused by the pandemic and the rising energy prices, as well as the anger of the Hungarian people. “With caps on energy and petrol prices, as well as mortgage borrowing already in place, curbs on the prices of basic food items, introduced by the Hungarian government in February, represent a continuation of Orbán’s strategy to control inflation”. However, living for today and not worrying about tomorrow can only go so far, argues Nagy.

The Hungarian united opposition will also have a lot of work ahead in the remaining month with regards to mobilising youth. They will have to convince young people to exercise their right to vote on April 3, since they have the ability to sway election results, analyses Marton Schlanger. With polls measuring differences between the ruling Fidesz & KNDP and the opposition alliance “United for Hungary” as being under +-5%, the often overlooked 1-2% of young undecided voters, aged 18-25, can mean loss or victory for either political side.

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Not only the votes of young voters will matterDániel Róna from the 21 Research Centre explained how each vote has its value depending on the constituencies. Some of them can be crucial in swinging the election results than others. This applies for example to the northern counties of Hungary. In Sunday’s election will be thus also crucial to reach out to these swing states.

Another decisive role will also have the undecided voters. According to Andrea Szabó from the Social Science Research Centre, reaching passive voters is particulary challenging: especially in the last two weeks before the election, when they make emotinal decisions in the elections.

Last, but not least, the recent war in Ukraine will most certainly have a great impact on the election as well. As Toni Skorić from the Friedrich Naumann Foundation writes, Orbán has been representing Russian interests in the EU for a long time.

However, due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Orbán’s friendship with Putin is now not particularly convenient for him. On one hand, he sticks to the favorable gas contracts negotiated with Russia and the expansion of the nuclear power plant by the Russian company Rosatom, on the other hand, he invented a new campaign narrative promoting an image of a peacemaker and neutrality of Hungary in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. Therefore, he declines any arms shipments to Ukraine through Hungarian territory.

The question is, whether this new narrative will help Orbán’s election resultDetmar Doering from the Friedrich Naumann Foundation thinks that Orbán’s Russophilia indeed represents a possible risk for him, although he is trying to interpret his behavior not as a loyalty to Putin, but as a protection of a significant Hungarian minority living in Ukraine. This is a clever move, because the protection of Hungarians living abroad is actually mostly seen as a legitimate concern.

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