How safe is Orban?

How safe is the position of Fidesz and PM Viktor Orbán basically one week before the elections, what is Orban’s biggest concern at this stage, and why? Read few comments.

Hungarian PM Viktor Orbán. Credit:Árpád Kurucz

Krisztina Arató, Professor, Institute of Political Sciences, Eötvös Loránd University

We are living a very tense period because of the electoral campaign, but it is maybe even more tense than before in similar periods. If you asked experts in January, they usually said that well, Orban will have a safe majority after the elections, the opposition is so scattered that there is no chance for cooperation in the electoral districts so  nothing will change. However, February 25 we had a by-election for a mayor in Hódmezővásárhely that is the town of Minister János Lázár, the powerful minister of the Prime Ministers’ Office and at this election Fidesz lost. The guy who won is Márk-Zay Péter, catholic, has 7 children, ex-supporter of Fidesz. He was supported by all the opposition parties. This was an ‘aha’ moment for the opposition (we can reach a breakthrough only with cooperation) and they started to negotiate district by district about who will withdraw for the strongest opposition candidate locally. These negotiations are still under way.

The other major experience of this by-election is that opinion polls don’t seem to work these days. There are rumours that 2 opinion polls predicted over 60% for Fidesz in Hódmezővásárhely and they still lost, not even with a slight majority (57% versus 41%, see official results here)

So, the only thing we (and Orban) can know at the moment is that Fidesz is for sure going to be the biggest party in the Parliament. What that will be enough for, we do not know and hard to predict. I guess there are three scenarios:

– Fidesz gets a supermajority (more than 2/3rds of the mandates). That is highly unlikely. They seem to be in a decreasing trend, they don’t even have the supermajority now (almost, though). Also, there is a huge campaign to motivate people to go to the vote – and since Fidesz seems to have a stable core electorate but they do not attract new voters, the higher the turnout is, the less percentage of the votes they are likely to get.

– absolute majority (50% of the mandates + 1) This would provide the basis of a still stable 4th Orban government. I think this is what Fidesz is now hoping for if they are realistic.

– relative majority (biggest party but less that 50% of the mandates) I think this is the situation that Orban fears most these days. This would mean that he has to enter into coalition talks, the question is with whom. And if all the scattered opposition parties say no, than he would not be able to form a government. But this is where the story gets interesting – the second biggest party will most probably be Jobbik – the radical right party, that used to be even farther to the right than Fidesz. In the last two years they were striving to attract moderate voters but the majority of people still see them as antisemitic, anti-EU, Russia-friendly guys. So, they are the second option to get a call from the president to try to form a government…

For the moment, none can present a reliable poll, or mandate calculation. I guess anything can happen in the framework of the second and third scenario.

Just one more thing, the campaign. Fidesz put everything on one card: migration. Videos shot in Vienna in dangerous neighbourhood (also asking the question – do you want Budapest to become like Vienna – people were laughing their heads off, of course we want to live like people in Vienna…), interviews, events, all of these are centered around this one issue. On the other side, not the opposition parties play the major role – but the newspapers owned by Lajos Simicska, still an oligarch, but former buddy of Orban (they split after the 2014 elections for reasons we only have only guesses about). About a month ago his papers started to leak stories about key Fidesz people about offshore bank accounts, illegal EU funding, etc, all pure corruption. There seems to be a well-designed timing of these: a story comes out, newspapers start to work on it. Lasts for some says providing top headlines and it starts to wear off after some days, then the next one comes. I am expecting some more to come, after all, we have 10 days to go. I think Orban is concerned about these stories either.

István Hegedűs, Chairman, Hungarian Europe Society

The surprise victory of an independent candidate, supported by all the opposition parties, to become the mayor of a a small town (Hódmezővásárhely) in a traditional right-wing area relied on a high turn-out has changed the political climate in Hungary since the end of February. There is a huge pressure on the fragmented opposition to follow this model at the general elections on 8 April. In theory, there is a new window of opportunity in case old and new parties; left, liberal and green political groups agree to run just a single joint candidate against the Fidesz opponent in most of the individual constituencies. However, they would also need to make a deal with Jobbik, the party which has moved from the extreme right position to a more moderate stance recently. This last minute co-operation would be the very condition for defeating Orbán, whose party is supposed to receive about forty percent of the second votes of the citizens which go directly to the party lists. In short: yes, Orbán might lose the elections since there are more people who want to change the government than those who hope keeping Orbán in power. Still, the internal – often personal – conflicts among the parties of the opposition, plus the ideological distance between the left and the (former) extreme right might make it impossible to repeat the successful Hódmezővásárhely pattern in the whole country again.

Veronika Jóźwiak, Analyst, Central Europe Programme, Polish Institute of International Affairs

One and a half a week ahead of the elections Fidesz is positioned very well and I wouldn’t expect any big surprises – most probably Fidesz-KDNP will be able to set up the next government alone, for the third time in a row. However, despite the fact it is leading the polls, Fidesz has sharpened its rhetoric in order to mobilize its core electorate, which is around 2 million voters. This is because the biggest concern for Orban is any unexpected event (like it has taken place during the by-elections in Hodmezovasarhely in February), eg. very high turnout, which would most probably increase the number of the opposition’s seats in the parliament, or the negative effect the series of corruption scandals might have, which are published almost every day recently in the Hungarian press. The worst scenario for Fidesz is the need to seek for a coalition partner, which is not very likely to happen, though. Also, achieving constitutional majority is less probable now.

Let me send you my latest bulletin I published on this topic last week, to have a more elaborated view.

Botond Feledy, Director, Institute of Social Reflection, Senior Research Fellow, Centre for Euro-Atlantic Integration and Democracy (CEID)

It seems that Orban previous ally closest ally – turned into arch enemy Lajos Simicska is recently dumping corruption cases through his still large media platform, but its effects are moderated by the extreme media polarization. At the same time, the opposition still struggles to offer each other concessions, and the number of fake parties blossom in some electoral districts, to divert votes. PM Orban and his communications team decided not to alter their strategy after the defeat at Hodmezovasarhely, pushing the single issue migration/Soros campaign forward. No Fidesz candidate or Orban himself has been involved in any serious debate in TV or radio, or at other events. Lack of dialogue is apparent, hardly any serious, not black and white policy arguments are brought up by any party. The polarization is getting extreme, and means used by government close actors seem to be getting tougher, like the “leak affair” of one of the NGOs, involving secret recordings. Any last minute true coordination of opposition forces is currently the ultimate fear of Fidesz, as only that would be able to defeat the election mathematics laid into law by Fidesz previously.


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