As I related in my previous article explaining the background to yesterday’s national election in Hungary, expectations on the Right were modest going into it. While the polls indicated that Viktor Orbán and his Fidesz party would most likely win a fourth consecutive term in office (his fifth overall), polls are often wrong. Many feared that the Left-liberal opposition, which for the first time was acting as a united bloc, could unseat him, or at the very least reduce Fidesz’s support and deny them a supermajority in Parliament, as they have enjoyed continuously since 2010. The Left’s anger at Orbán’s lengthy domination of the country has been building and it was widely believed that this would motivate liberal voters to turn out in unprecedented numbers.
It appeared even more likely — again, according to the polls — that the new radical Right party, Mi Hazánk (Our Homeland), which was formed shortly after the 2018 election to fill the void left by the radical Right-turned-liberal center-Right party Jobbik, would fail to garner the 5% of the votes needed to enter Parliament.
These predictions were wrong. Massively wrong.
Orbán handily won reelection by a huge margin: 53.1% of the votes cast, as opposed to 35.04% for United for Hungary, the opposition’s coalition. This was Fidesz’s biggest result since the second round of the 2010 election that brought it to power (53.81%), when Hungary still had a two-round system. This will give Fidesz 135 seats in Parliament (of 199), up from 133, and also means they will retain their two-thirds supermajority, which allows them to enact legislation without needing the cooperation of any other party. The united opposition — for as long as it manages to remain united — will have 56 MPs.
In his victory speech Sunday night, Orbán said that “[w]e have won such a great victory that it can be seen from the Moon, and certainly from Brussels,” pointing out that Fidesz had succeeded in overcoming not only the domestic opposition but also a host of liberal opponents abroad, singling out George Soros; Orbán said that all the money Soros has spent in opposing him has been his “worst investment.”
Fidesz’s surprising retention of its supermajority will be welcomed by Fidesz supporters, but even those who take a more objective viewpoint from the Right, including this writer, wonder if it is entirely a good thing. Fidesz has enjoyed unchallenged power for so long now that there is a danger that it could grow complacent. It will certainly not be under as much pressure to adopt a more dynamic program that takes the sometimes legitimate concerns of the other parties and constituencies into account. It has also used this power to make some questionable decisions; it is their supermajority which allowed them to effortlessly enact Hungary’s fairly draconian anti-COVID measures since March 2020, for example (not that the opposition parties, apart from Mi Hazánk, ever offered any resistance to these measures). Be that as it may, Fidesz will enjoy this freedom for another four years.
The participation of eligible voters was 67.8%, which was actually slightly lower than in 2018 (68.13%), which likewise suggests that the anticipated enthusiasm among anti-Orbán voters did not materialize. Fidesz was even successful in winning in some districts of Budapest, most of which is traditionally a Left-wing bastion.
This is a crushing defeat for Hungary’s liberal-Left coalition, which had anticipated that acting as a unified force and adopting a new style, as represented by their Prime Ministerial candidate, Péter Márki-Zay (who had American campaign advisors), and once again presenting themselves as “the last chance against the Orbán dictatorship” would be a powerful combination that Orbán would not be able to overcome. In fact, as things turned out, the liberal-Left opposition parties were more successful in 2018, running as separate and independent parties, than they were this time acting in unison. And to add insult to injury, Mr. Márki-Zay actually lost to his Fidesz opponent, János Lázár, by a wide margin (52.37% to 39.58%) in the fourth constituency of Csongrád-Csanád County, which includes the small city of Hódmezővásárhely, where Márki-Zay has been Mayor since 2015.
It was anticipated that in the event of defeat, the six-party liberal-Left coalition would accuse Fidesz of election fraud. The margin of victory is so large, however, that it makes such claims simply untenable. Their messaging in the immediate aftermath has instead been to blame Fidesz for establishing an unequal playing field during the campaign itself, such as by allegedly restricting access among the public to opposing points of view, rather than to question the conduct of the election itself.
Other opposition leaders wasted no time in attempting to distance themselves from Márki-Zay’s failure, leaving him alone on the platform to deliver his painful televised concession speech last night to a sparse crowd of supporters. Péter Jakab, the leader of Jobbik, blamed Márki-Zay by name on Monday, and Ferenc Gyurcsány, the President of the Democratic Coalition (DK) and the long-standing éminence grise of the Hungarian liberal Left, claimed that the candidate had “not been a good captain.” Jakab insisted on the importance of maintaining a united opposition going forward in order to continue to challenge Fidesz’s supremacy, but many are already questioning how long the bloc can possibly last given the stinging rebuke they have received, especially among rivals who have an established history of turning on each other once the elections are past.
But perhaps the most encouraging takeaway from the election was the success of Hungary’s new radical Right party, Mi Hazánk, which passed the 5% threshold for entering Parliament with 6.17% of the vote, garnering them seven MPs. Despite some promising poll results late last year, most polling since the beginning of this year had put them at only 2-3% — but polling is often wrong, especially when it comes to the smaller Right-wing parties in Hungary. Mi Hazánk’s leader, László Toroczkai, chose to focus his campaign on opposition to the government’s anti-COVID policies, but given that Orbán had opted to take a much softer approach in recent months, culminating in the cancellation of all COVID measures last month, it was thought that few voters would still have concern about this issue uppermost in their minds. As it turned out, it may be that some Hungarian voters are worried that the COVID saga is not yet over. It is also certainly the case that there are many people on the Right in Hungary who have been longing for a stronger Right-wing alternative to Fidesz’s style of classical liberal conservatism. It is to be hoped that Mi Hazánk can now help to influence Fidesz into moving further to the Right, as it may have already done with Fidesz’s new child protection law, as I discussed in my previous article.
Mi Hazánk’s result is particularly impressive given that this is the first national election they have participated in. For comparison, Mi Hazánk’s predecessor, Jobbik, won only 1.7% of the vote as part of a coalition of small Right-wing parties in 2006, the first national election it fought in. The reason for this contrast may be that Mi Hazánk’s leaders were all well-known nationally for years before the formation of the party, and/or that conditions are riper for the growth of such a party now than they were in April 2006.
It’s also worth noting that Mi Hazánk’s success came despite Facebook’s decision to delete the party’s pages on that platform only a few days prior to the election, something which the party has promised to address through legal channels.
For its part, Jobbik has lost its place as Hungary’s largest opposition party, a position it has held since the 2010 election, winning only 9 MPs — down from 17, and putting it only two seats ahead of its younger rival. The main opposition party in the new government will be the Democratic Coalition, led by Orbán’s old nemesis Ferenc Gyurcsány, with 17 seats, meaning that Hungarian politics will now once again be defined by a conflict between Orbán and the liberal Left in which the same actors as in the contentious 2000s will take the leading roles — only with their parts reversed. Jobbik’s losses suggest that they have lost most of their original Right-wing base and have been unable to appeal to more centrist voters by adopting a new, “softer” program and closely allying with the liberal Left in recent years.
The other element of the election worth noting, and the only slightly sour note of the night, was that a referendum on Hungary’s child protection law, which was enacted last year and prohibits the promotion of the LGBTQ agenda to those under 18, was concurrently held. Although 92.34% of those who voted on it decided in favor of the law, it nevertheless failed because fewer than the required 50% of voters participated in the referendum. This was undoubtedly because of a deliberate sabotage campaign by liberal voters, many of whom left the referendum form blank or did not even ask for it, knowing that giving the referendum the requisite number of participants would grant a victory to Fidesz. This will have no effect on the law itself, however, which is already in force, and the highly supportive result, even if not binding, will nevertheless serve to bolster the government’s defense of it against critics, both at home and in Brussels.
The question all political observers will be asking in the coming weeks and months is how Hungary, which was widely expected at home and abroad to move leftward, ended up swinging even further to the Right. There were several factors in play, including the opposition’s gross incompetence that was fully on display throughout the campaign, but a crucial factor was undoubtedly the outbreak of the Russo-Ukrainian War. Public opinion polls in recent weeks showed that a large majority of voters agree with Orbán’s staunchly neutral stance on the conflict and also have more trust in his ability to guide the country in a time of international crisis than his opponent’s.
Further, as one Hungarian professional political commentator put it to this writer (and an assessment which several other Hungarians I spoke to agree with), Hungarians have a long history of saying “fuck you” to whoever they perceive as insulting them and trying to pressure them into doing things that go against their interests. This has most definitely been the case in Hungary’s relations with Brussels in recent years, and also with Ukraine. Last week Ukraine’s President, Volodymyr Zelensky, called Hungary out for its neutral stance and its unwillingness to take a stronger stand against Russia, accusing the Hungarians of opposing “humanity and common sense” in refraining from committing fully to supporting Ukraine. Some Hungarian observers even suspect that Zelensky was put up to making the accusations by political actors in the United States and/or Western Europe in an attempt to influence the election. Hungarians react badly to such attempts at manipulation, however, and thus the vote can in part be seen as a “fuck you” to both the European Union and Ukraine.
Those who fail to understand Hungary’s reluctance to get more directly involved in the war are usually not aware of the fact that Ukraine has been extremely hostile to its Hungarian minority in Transcarpathia, a region which was part of Hungary until it was incorporated into Ukraine by Stalin in 1946. The most prominent example of this hostility is the passage of Ukraine’s language law, which affects not only the Hungarians but other minorities in the country as well, requiring them to study exclusively in the Ukrainian language in schools and to conduct all official business in Ukrainian. There have also been cases of harassment and even physical attacks on Hungarians in Transcarpathia by Ukrainian nationalists. These issues are of great concern to many Hungarians. In January, several weeks before the outbreak of war, Hungary’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Péter Szijjártó, stated that any assistance Hungary would give to Ukraine in the event of a crisis could only be “limited” given the country’s icy relations with them in recent years.
The thesis of the role played by the war in the election result seems borne out by the fact that, in Orbán’s victory speech last night, he specifically mentioned “the Ukrainian President” as one of the opponents Fidesz had had to overcome in the course of its campaign. Thus, it seems unlikely that, short of an expansion of the war outside Ukraine, Hungary will be altering its neutral stance or ending its extensive trade relations with Russia. Vladimir Putin sent his congratulations to Orbán on Monday for his victory, expressing the hope that Hungarian-Russian relations would continue to be positive “despite the current difficult international situation.”
In related news, Orbán’s ally in Belgrade, Aleksandar Vučić and his populist-Right Serbian Progressive Party, won reelection in neighboring Serbia on the same day, guaranteeing that Hungary will continue to have a friendly government there — something which is important given that Hungary has few political allies in Europe.
Hungary now stands politically well-positioned to continue to act as a beacon of the Right throughout the world by presenting a rare success story in both Fidesz and Mi Hazánk. “The whole world could see here in Budapest tonight that Christian Democratic policies, conservative civic policies, and patriotic policies have won,” as Orbán said in his victory speech. “We’re sending the message to Europe that this is not the past, this is the future. This will be our shared European future. The whole world can see that Hungarians love their country.”
It is fervently hoped that Hungarian Rightists will seize this hard-won opportunity to take their “illiberal” counter-revolution even further and deeper in the years to come.