Hungary Election Countdown
Outlook for Hungary for 2022

Budapest Parlament

Hungarian National Assembly

© Václav Bacovský

2022 will be the year of a momentous election in Hungary. We can’t see past it but we can line up the forces that shape the outcome. We will analyze the four possible scenarios of election results – supermajority or simple majority to either side – and what may come after.

Since the Orbán-regime is changing the rules of the game and springs new problems and realities at the country virtually every day, every attempt at guessing the future is extraordinarily futile. Today, we can see the picture of an indebted country with an empty budget and mighty economic troubles inherited by anyone who wins in 2022 – tomorrow a new set of measures might paint that picture even darker.

The governability of the country is at stake. By now only Orbán himself has the power to govern. If his person is replaced, even within his own party, his successor would be in trouble with the powerful institutional and economic forces that Orbán created to mess with a potential successor. After Orbán the governability of the country will be damaged.

The international political landscape has substantially changed in the last year and the trend of aspiring western autocrats appears to be reversed. Orbán has lost many political allies (in the sense that they lost power in their own countries) and clings to the remaining few. While posing as the vanguard of the autocratic movement, his political fate is not really in his own hands. It will likely be sealed by whatever happens in the global arena. The events that transpire between the great powers are impossible to predict – yet they will have the greatest impact on what happens in Hungarian politics.

Orbán has recently described himself as the thorn in the side of the European Union – and that is the scope of what he can be in Europe. Nothing less, but nothing more either.

The global economic landscape has also shifted and a long overdue economic downturn appears to have arrived – it is only a matter of time until politicians are forced to admit it. For Orbán the economy is now a race against time: will it collapse before the elections and collapse on him or will it drown the next government? He appears to be fully aware that he never governed through an economic downturn. Indeed, both times he rose to power on the wave of discontent against its predecessors caused by economic crises. And both times he was helped by the fact that his predecessors felt obliged to fix the economy by austerity packages before the elections – duly losing to Orbán and leaving him a better economy. Orbán may have found himself in their unenviable position, but he is not going to make that mistake to do a favor to his successor. He is bent on leaving an empty budget, heavy-handed price controls, a mountain of debt and the full fallout from the runaway inflation on his successor.

This is why some question whether he wants to win in 2022 – or by what degree. Letting his opposition be buried under the avalanche of problems would allow him to sail back into power in 2026 the latest, maybe earlier, and blame the hardship on his opponents. This speculation is supported by the evident efforts to both win the elections (by the biggest ever election giveaway) and to prepare to lose it (by outsourcing economic and political power into loyalist hands and out of the reach of any future government). An opposition that only wins by a simple majority will be a lame duck and can not claw back any of the power or assets by legal means.

After a brief summary of the events and trends of 2021 (both domestic and global) the analysis will focus on the four election scenarios in Hungary, their possible consequences and what happens next.

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About the author:

Eszter Nova, PhD, is a lecturer at the CEVRO Institute in Prague.