Hungary

Can Hungary’s rainbow coalition bring down Orbán’s regime in 2022?

OPINION

The vast majority of popular opposition parties will run in Hungary’s 2022 national  parliamentary elections as a coalition, with a joint program, a single Prime Minister candidate, and only one local candidate per voting district. With this, they hope to oust Viktor Orbán, whose latest stretch as Prime Minister began in 2010. A collective run seems to be the only way to stop Orbán’s authoritarian regime, though in today’s illiberal Hungary, success seems anything but guaranteed.

One list of candidates and a united program in 2022

The opposition parties polling highest with the public formed a union in the December of 2020, and have announced they will be running together as a coalition in the 2022 parliamentary elections. The coalition parties are: the right-wing Jobbik (‘Movement for a Better Hungary’), the left-leaning Democratic Coalition and MSZP (‘Hungarian Socialist Party’), the green Párbeszéd (‘Dialogue for Hungary’) and LMP- Hungary’s Green Party (previously known as ‘Politics Can Be Different’), as well as the liberal Momentum Movement.

The coalition issued a statement on 20 December 2020, declaring that together they wish “to destroy the Orbán-system”, “to build an independent, liveable, and proud Hungary”, and to eliminate political corruption. The parties wish to “put their differences aside” in order to defeat Viktor Orbán, who has been unchallenged since he assumed office in 2010. Throughout his term, Orbán has been heavily criticised by European leaders and human rights organisations for his populist and corrupt authoritarianism, and for developing what has come to be known as an illiberal democracy in Hungary. Despite all this, polls suggest he remains popular among his voting base.

A necessary compromise

In order to understand why the opposition have settled for a collective compromise, one need only examine the results of the last parliamentary elections. In 2018, Fidesz was able to secure victory by gaining less than 50% of votes. The remaining 50%+ was shared between 35 different parties – almost 46,5% of those votes were received by the parties forming the current opposition alliance. In other words, the majority of the Hungarian electorate would prefer to vote against Orbán, but have had a difficult time choosing between opposition parties, a phenomenon which ultimately puts into question the strength and potency of said candidates. To that end, in 2018, the opposition came under legitimate accusations of holding no real intention of trying to defeat Orbán’s Fidesz, having accepted the improbability of victory. If this was the case in 2018, the following year seemed to bring a change of tune.

2019: a tested method

For the many Hungarians wishing for an Orbán defeat in 2022 but nervous of the odds, hope may be found in the results of the 2019 local elections. Those opposition parties who ran as coalitions in Budapest and other counties faired surprisingly well: 14 of the 23 districts of Budapest saw a victory by the opposition coalition, while independents led the numbers in two other districts. But perhaps the biggest coalition victory was found in Gergely Karácsony (green political party, Párbeszéd), who won the bid to become Mayor of Budapest, ending Fidesz’s ten-year grip on the capital’s mayorship. Karácsony’s triumph in the capital was grounded by a pre-election process held during the summer of 2019. In these pre-elections, the Budapest electorate were able to choose which coalition candidate would run against Fidesz. Simply put, 2019 showed opposition parties that coalitions could be their way into power and Orbán’s way home.

Too soon to hope?

If the opposition alliance is to defeat Hungary’s de facto dictator, they will have to make smart decisions, particularly as they will most likely face big difficulties in the election process. Firstly, they must be politically astute in who they choose as their candidate for Prime Minister. Karácsony would seem an obvious choice, since he is arguably today’s most popular opposition politician – but as we know, he already holds the position of Mayor of Budapest. They could hold a 2019-style primary, but this would be quite complicated to fulfil on a national scale and would likely face another problem for a coalition that is not ideologically homogenous: conservative Hungary.

While Budapest (as the example of 2019 illustrates) has a strong, continuously growing left-liberal base, many other parts of Hungary remain extremely conservative. This is due to an emphasis on tradition and fear of change, which has been reinforced by Fidesz’s xenophobic, homophobic and misogynistic propaganda. As a young Hungarian, it is incredibly difficult for me to believe that voters from smaller towns or villages would react positively to coalition candidates with what are often perceived to be contrary, liberal and (most provocatively) ‘Western’ ideas. How do you convince an electorate to vote for candidates in favour of migrant rights and LGBTQ+ rights, on the back of years of propaganda that has actively demonised both communities? How can you expect people to vote against Orbán after being bribed with food and money? Fidesz has done everything in its power to develop a core base of voters and will likely be diligent to keep them in its bubble, in 2022.

Hungary’s opposition joining forces is a step in the right direction and the only hope of an end to Orbán’s regime. With the successful method of 2019 and the societal outrage following Orbán’s poor response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the coalition may have a fair chance of victory. However, before hopes are raised, those Hungarians wishing for an Orbán defeat must remember that Fidesz’s base remains strong after a decade of intense propaganda. The 2022 elections will undoubtedly serve the closest battle Hungary has seen since 2010 – and with a skillful campaign, the opposition alliance could very well become the favorites to win it all.

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