Hungary 2022 Elections: End of Orban?
As featured in Edition 39, available here.
BY HANNA BAJWA (3rd year - Politics and Sociology - High Wycombe, UK)
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, his ruling party - Fidesz, and his brand of national conservatism has been shaping Hungary’s politics since he came to power in 2010. Since then, Hungary has been moving away from progressive values, including liberal democracy, secularism, LGBT+ rights, and gender equality. Finally, his opponents have had enough. The six factions, tired of the anti-Fidesz vote-splitting, have recently pledged to work together. The alliance of socialists, social democrats, greens, liberals, and former far-right parties have united with a single joint candidate to challenge Orbán – Péter Márki-Zay. Márki-Zay is the best chance in 11 years to get rid of Orbán.
Encouragement for change can be traced back to Hungary’s nearby neighbour, the Czech Republic, where a five-party ‘Democratic Bloc’ toppled the populist Prime Minister, Andrej Babis, earlier this year. Despite the Czech elections providing inspiration for the Hungarian opposition, numerous challenges face the united opposition party and Márki-Zay that the Czech Republic did not. Firstly, Babis was only in power for one term and was the head of a minority coalition, giving him very little wiggle room to tilt the Czech electoral or judicial systems. On the other hand, Orbán has remained in power for the last decade, has a handy two-thirds parliamentary majority, and has weakened the judiciary and civil society during this time. Secondly, although Babis is the proud owner of major media assets in the Czech Republic, the press is still much more open than that of Hungary.
Yet, Orbán is not without challenges. In an effort to safeguard next year’s election, the opposition coalition aims to recruit 20,000 civilian vote counters to be present at every polling station in the country. Orbán’s handling of the pandemic has also turned voters against him, and the EU is finally restricting the flow of funds to his corrupt government. But is this enough? Only time will tell.
Advocating for strategic voting since 2018, Márki-Zay became the symbol of a united opposition, proving a one-to-one candidate strategy might be the way to defeat Fidesz. His non-party background might have been one of his biggest appeals, untainted by the pre-2010 Socialist Liberal coalition nor mainstream parties established since the fall of communism in 1989.
Despite this, Márki-Zay also faces challenges due to his large appeal of being an independent candidate. He is currently trying to remain non-party affiliated and anti-establishment while needing the opposition parties’ structure and resources for campaign support, the lack of which may undermine the opposition’s chances. A further problem that Márki-Zay may later regret is his vow to tackle corruption, whether it was committed by Orbán’s government or by the earlier Socialist-led governments that are now in opposition. This could possibly lead to a divide within the six-party coalition as it is a potential threat to them. Yet, so far, it does not seem to be a problem. Moreover, Hungary’s media is now producing vast amounts of pro-Fidesz media and conspiracy theories about Márki-Zay, including that he is a puppet of Ferenc Gyurcsány, the country’s millionaire former prime minister. Orbán is clearly not giving up without a fight.
According to the latest polls from November 2021, the United Opposition is currently leading ahead of Fidesz by around 1-4%, depending on the polling - 41% for the former versus 37% for the latter. But will this momentum last until April 2022? His long-term success will depend on his ability to present a coherent programme, cooperate and negotiate with other opposition parties, and mobilise opposition voters.
If Márki-Zay does win, he has said he will reverse the closer ties Orbán has created with Russia and China, and also seek to improve his country’s relations with the EU and other Western allies. Orbán has compared the EU to the Soviet domination Hungary faced for 40 years, yet this has significantly weakened Hungary’s geopolitical position, which Márki-Zay wants to reverse.
Winning the election is only half of the challenge though, the other half would be reversing Hungary’s democratic decline. The opposition does not wish to go back to the Hungarian democracy it had pre-2010 but rather go forward and create an entirely new system. If the opposition wins the election, it is also quite significant for the right-wing parties of Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, and Slovenia, who have received Orbán’s support over the years. Orbán has been spreading his ideology and working on creating a bubble of influence among nearby countries, which Márki-Zay has the possibility of bursting if elected.
Image: Flickr (Attila Kisbenedek)