Parliamentary elections in Hungary
Together Against Orbán
The Hungarian opposition joined its forces by sending a common candidate into the spring race to become Hungary's next prime minister: Péter Márki-Zay. Only a joint program is missing. Be it as it may, the outlook is promising.
Hungary faces undoubtedly the most exciting election in its history with probably the tightest result since 2006: the parliamentary elections in spring 2022. Despite the overall critique concerning the handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, the governing parties have largely managed to maintain their support. Yet, for the first time since Fidesz-KDNP came to power in 2010, the opposition stands an actual chance against them.
There are two main reasons for this: First, the opposition understood that due to the specificities of the electoral system, there is no chance to win for a fragmented, multi-party opposition. Thus, six opposition parties decided to take a chance with joint individual candidates, joint candidate for the prime minister and a joint election list.
Secondly, in September/October 2021, the aforementioned parties along with affiliated NGOs celebrated a great succes by putting the decision about the individual candidates and the prime minister candidate into the hands of voters. Hence, for the first time in years, the opposition has set the political agenda for next months. Fidesz was unable to respond to this in any meaningful way. According to the most opinion polls, the opposition currently has a slight lead over Fidesz-KDNP. Nevertheless, the opposition cannot rest on its laurels, the hard work just begun. They have to face the Fidesz campaign machinery, which will not be forgiving towards the opposition parties and its politicians and which will run a tough election campaign.
From the primaries emerged a new situation for the opposition. A few months before the primaries, it seemed almost inconceivable that the candidate for prime minister would not stem from a major party or a party alliance. Instead, an independent leader of the movement "Hungary for everyone" (MMM), Péter Márki-Zay, who comes from the fourth-largest South-Hungarian city Hódmezővásárhely, happened to be the candidate for prime minister. Currently he serves as a mayor there.
Despite being a candidate of parties connected to social democratic, green, left-wing and social liberal ideologies, Márki-Zay's positions can hardly be described as a cross-sum of the programs of the opposition, for whom social security issues are a priority. While all the parties support an expansion of the social safety net, a greater accountability of the state and higher taxes for rich population, Márki-Zay is cautious about social policy promises and public spending. He wants to shift the focus more towards market processes. He is open to cooperation between state and private sector, especially in health care. In general, he stands for a more market-based approach.
Another difference between the alliance and its candidate lies in contrast between more or less liberal views of a significant number of the opposition politicians on social and cultural issues (with the exception of the right-wing politicians) and conservative positions of Péter Márki-Zay. He often shows his religious views and regularly attends church. His attitude towards LGBTQ groups is rather traditional and unclear, at best. On the one hand, he repeatedly attacks the Fidesz party (among other things) because of its high number of gay politicians; on the other hand, he has spoken out in favor of same-sex marriage.
Nevertheless, there is a greater agreement between the six opposition parties and Péter Márki-Zay on foreign policy ideas. As well as the opposition parties, he advocates a strong Western commitment. Like the Alliance parties, he also wants to take a step back in the matter of Orbán's opening to the east and end his "fight for freedom" against Brussels. He also considers the EU and the Western world to be Hungary's most important allies for the future. The opposition parties are not entirely united on the issue of euro, whereas Márki-Zay pledged to take the first steps towards Hungarian membership in the eurozone if elected.
More complex consensus is necessary
A few months before the elections, despite having a candidate, the opposition is not in an easy position. It needs to be reorganized. Péter Márki-Zay and his movement, which sometimes actively criticizes the opposition parties from the outside, must be integrated into the system and decision-making structure of the six opposition parties. Moreover, a common program is needed, even if those involved do not share the same ideology. Furthermore, in order to defeat Viktor Orbán, the opposition has to appeal to a relatively broad range of voters in the spring of 2022.
The alliance has to win over the centrist and more right-wing conservative voters, at the same time it must not alienate the progressive, left-leaning voters. They must convince the undecided voters to vote for them - the one who have not been satisfied with the opposition over the past decade - without alienating the opposition's core voters. While mobilizing voters from the capital and other major cities, they cannot make the mistake of omitting voters from smaller cities. This can only turn into success if all the players cooperate - in that case, the chances of ending the Orbán era are better than they have ever been since 2010.
This article was originally published in the latest issue of the magazine Liberal (in German): https://liberal.freiheit.digital/2022/01-2022/wahlen-in-ungarn
About the author:
Andrea Virág is the Director of Strategy at Republikon Institute. She studied political science, survey statistics and history at the Eötvös Loránd University (ELTE). She started to work at Republikon in 2016. As a researcher and then as the head of the research, she was responsible for analysis and research at the Institute while also becoming responsible for managing Republikon’s international projects and relations.