Hungary News Politics & International

Winners & Losers: Hungary’s opposition primaries first-round recap

Budapest, Hungary – DK’s Klára Dobrev, Budapest mayor Gergely Karácsony, and independent liberal-conservative Péter Márki-Zay will progress to the second round of Hungary’s opposition primaries. Full recap and analysis by Ábel Bede.

Klára Dobrev won the first round of the Opposition primaries’ prime ministerial contest. The EP vice-president gained 34.8% of the votes. Budapest’s green mayor, Gergely Karácsony came second at 27.2%, while conservative-liberal Hódmezővásárhely-mayor Péter Márki-Zay also got to the second round with 20.4% of the votes. Jobbik’s leader, Péter Jakab gained 14.2% and Momentum-leader András Fekete-Győr came last with 3.5%.

Karácsony and Márki-Zay started talks on Friday to decide which one of them should withdraw from the race and back the other in the second round against Dobrev. Karácsony and Márki-Zay stated that they would run on a joint PM-Deputy PM ticket in the next round.

But for now, they are still up against each other to decide who should stand; Karácsony publicly promised Márki-Zay that he could take up any position he wants in his government and reminded the Hódmezővásárhely mayor that Karácsony’s voters might actually choose Dobrev if he withdraws.

Márki-Zay, on the other hand, argued that he is more able to convince undecided voters than Karácsony. As the mayor of Budapest gained more votes and he has long been considered the front-runner, he is more likely to stay standing. But that is far from certain due to his underwhelming numbers outside the capital and Márki-Zay’s stronger-than-expected mandate.

Dobrev won in the vast majority of constituencies in the country, but Gergely Karácsony managed to win most constituencies in Budapest. Despite his bad overall performance, Péter Jakab won in 3 countryside constituencies consisting of smaller towns. Nevertheless, he underperformed nationally, likely because the opportunity was limited to vote in villages.

Jakab also did not manage to convince voters in bigger towns and smaller cities, hence Dobrev becoming the surprise winner in the countryside. Péter Márki-Zay also won in 2 constituencies, one that contains Hódmezővásárhely, the city he is the mayor of and one in Western Hungary.

András Fekete-Győr came last in the vast majority of constituencies, which is a terrible performance on an otherwise decent night for Momentum, which might put his leadership under pressure.

The Jobbik-DK deal in action

The key lesson of the primaries is that the Jobbik-DK deal worked. Together they won more than 57% of all constituencies. DK is the overall winner in the race for constituencies, having won 33, closely followed by Jobbik with 28.

DK managed to win a lot of valuable and winnable cities outside Budapest, while Jobbik acquired most of their targeted constituencies consisting of villages and smaller towns. The deal also boosted Klára Dobrev’s performance as she clearly won over voters outside Budapest. Jakab, on the other hand, could not utilise the deal as turnout was lower in villages and towns than in cities.

Due to Dobrev’s performance, and because their seats are more winnable, DK perhaps gained more from the deal, but Jobbik also got what they wanted more or less.

Liberal and Green Buda

Despite the terrible performance of their leader, Momentum had decent results overall. This is largely thanks to their strong performance in Buda and its surrounding areas. Anna Orosz delivered one of the strongest performances of the primaries in Újbuda, where she defeated DK’s Budapest-strongwoman Erzsébet Gy. Németh by more than 69% of the votes. Miklós Hajnal also managed to win against DK’s Zoltán Komáromi in a tough fight in the Buda hills, while Endre Tóth very narrowly beat the incumbent veteran DK politician, Gyula Molnár.

Victories for Bernadett Szél and György Buzinkay in the surrounding commuter belt capped off a strong performance for Momentum in the more affluent parts of greater Budapest, meaning that the party solidified its middle-class voting base in the capital. Bence Tordai will join her Párbeszéd comrade, Tímea Szabó in the area as he managed to beat one of DK’s most known politicians and former journalist, Olga Kálmán by a convincing margin.

The dominance of Párbeszéd and Momentum in Buda show a clear anti-DK sentiment in the West side of the capital. Despite winning in most other cities around the country, Klára Dobrev only came third in many of these constituencies.

DK can’t be satisfied with its overall Budapest performance either, as they only won 4 seats in the primaries, two of which they were already incumbent in. They did manage to gain a valuable scalp though, as Gergely Arató beat socialist veteran and the constituency’s incumbent MP, Sándor Burány in Kőbánya.

Despite Burány’s defeat, the socialists delivered an acceptable performance in Budapest, largely thanks to their few remaining local strongmen and strongwomen in Pest.

A victory for Momentum’s incumbent Szabolcs Szabó, Ákos Hadházy’s knockout of Csaba Tóth in Zugló, and a perhaps surprising win for Jobbik’s György Szilágyi in outer Pest complete the constituencies in the capital, alongside the confident victory of Szikra’s András Jámbor in central Budapest. The former journalist could become Hungary’s first “new-left” MP in parliament in 2022.

Trends show that Fidesz has completely lost control of its former strongholds in Buda, which means all candidates who won their primaries in the capital are likely to end up representing their constituencies in 2022.

Green Commuter Belt

Another pattern that is apparent from the results is the emerging green presence in Budapest’s commuter belt in Pest County. The two green parties, LMP and Párbeszéd performed well in the area while former LMP leader, Bernadett Szél’s (now in Momentum colours) Budakeszi victory also fits the pattern.

This means that major commuter areas such as Gödöllő, Nagykáta, Monor, Budakeszi, and Dunakeszi will be contested by candidates who are or were members of a green party. Based on the 2018 results, all of them have a good chance of winning.

It is also worth pointing out the clear geographical composition of winners in the commuter belt; LMP and Párbeszéd are strong to the east of Pest, Momentum to the northwest of Buda, while DK managed to bag the constituencies to the southwest of Buda.

Winners

Klára Dobrev and Péter Márki-Zay

Klára Dobrev was an obvious winner in the prime ministerial contest, given that she won the first round overall. She utilised the excellent mobilisation capabilities of her party and also added a few additional votes, somewhat unexpectedly in the countryside. Dobrev’s big problem, however, is that she is not integrative enough to win the second round if she has to face either Karácsony or Márki-Zay. She only has a realistic shot in case the two mayors are unable to reach a deal, which is unlikely.

The other big winner is the mayor of Hódmezővásárhely, Péter Márki-Zay, who beat the odds and managed to reach the second round with considerably less financial backing than his opponents and without any party backing. He was probably helped by the bad campaign of András Fekete-Győr, as he could become the viable anti-corruption, anti-DK, and anti-establishment candidate.

His healthy 20% is enough to make Karácsony’s candidacy in the second round less than certain. Márki-Zay is still the likelier candidate to pull out, but his position will be strong during the negotiations.

DK and Párbeszéd

Thanks to its deal with Jobbik, DK is the clear winner of the contest as the party managed to win the most constituencies overall, the most safe seats, and the most battleground seats according to 444’s analysis. It seems that DK is becoming the go-to progressive option outside Budapest as Ferenc Gyurcsány continues the slow strangling of his former party, MSZP. 

The negotiating team of Párbeszéd have always been very successful. Despite being a small party, polling at 2-3%, their candidates have consistently found themselves in better and better positions as years passed due to their ability to forge strong alliances and make good deals.

This was the case this time as well as 5 out of 7 Párbeszéd victories are in safe or winnable seats, mostly in Budapest and its commuter belt. Many doubted Párbeszéd when it forged an alliance with MSZP years ago, but now it is perfectly possible that Karácsony’s party will have more MPs from individual constituencies than the socialists.

Losers

András Fekete-Győr and Péter Jakab

The leaders of Jobbik and Momentum both delivered a sub-par performance at the polls. Jakab’s is a bit more acceptable but, as at one point it seemed he could even win the contest, his little more than 14% is still disappointing. Jakab was unable to convince people in cities, who turned up in greater numbers than the village folk.

His bad numbers could be attributed to limited voting opportunities in villages, which Jakab was banking on but his inability to build on his “everyman” image further could have also contributed to his target voters opting for Márki-Zay and, somewhat surprisingly, Dobrev.

András Fekete-Győr admitted in an interview on Thursday that his performance was “lousy.” To illustrate just how badly it went, it is worth looking at Budapest 1 constituency, where LMP’s Antal Csárdi (supported by all other opposition parties) went up against Momentum’s Ferenc Gelencsér, who was only supported by Péter Márki-Zay’s independent conservative organisation, MMM apart from Momentum. While Ferenc Gelencsér won 40% of the votes, in the same constituency András Fekete-Győr gained 4.7%. This means that almost only a tenth of Momentum voters voted for him.

A bad campaign without a clear message is probably the main reason behind Fekete-Győr’s abysmal performance. Pressure is mounting on him to reconsider his position, but Momentum’s otherwise good results might mean that he will remain to see through the actual elections in 2022 when his mandate expires anyway.

Interestingly, the bad performances of their leaders are not reflected in the overall performances of Momentum or Jobbik. Jobbik did well, they have the second-most victories in the primaries overall and, apart from a few exceptions such as Ózd, they managed to obtain most of their target seats.

Crucially, they did well in key battlegrounds, which means, if the opposition win, they will win big too. But this also means that they will have to utilise all their resources in 2022 to be in parliament in big numbers. The opposition’s victory rests heavily on their shoulders.

Deputy-leader Anna Orosz labelled Momentum’s performance only “acceptable”, however Momentum’s candidates have nothing to be ashamed of; put together, they received the second-most votes after DK. Crucially for them, most of their victories are in safe seats in Budapest and winnable or safe seats in other cities, such as Debrecen or Szeged.

They missed a few target seats (which they perhaps could have won with a better prime ministerial candidate), but Endre Tóth’s victory in South Buda or Alexandra Bodrozsán’s victory in Kecskemét were far from straightforward. Therefore, Momentum can be happy with its results overall.

LMP and MSZP

LMP was banking on standing in a few constituencies and investing all their energy in them. These tactics backfired, as while Antal Csárdi and Krisztina Hohn delivered comfortable victories in central Budapest and in the commuter belt, their most prominent figure, billionaire Péter Ungár lost against Csaba Czeglédy in Szombathely and László Lóránt Keresztes was defeated by László Szakács in Pécs.

They lost against their respective DK opponents by 2 and 3%, which means that they could have perhaps even won with better mobilisation, however as it stands, it would be easy to conclude why the only way forward for LMP is to remerge with Párbeszéd.

There are also rumours that MSZP might be part of the LMP and Párbeszéd merger and their performance in the primaries will probably nudge them towards this option. Their household names, Sándor Burány, ex-leader Attila Mesterházy, and Ildikó Bangóné Borbély all lost in their respective contests, which seems to confirm that the days of the former party of the state are numbered. Some of their lesser-known candidates who ran good grassroots campaigns in the North East and the North West may just have slowed the clock down a bit.

The Problematic Candidates

One advantage of the primaries is that scandalous details from the candidates’ past could emerge now and not in 2022. There were three main scandals; MSZP’s Zugló strongman omitted significant wealth from his declaration of assets he submitted before the primaries, DK’s Judit Földi was found out to be involved with an off-shore company, and photos emerged of Ózd Jobbik deputy-mayor Péter Barnabás Farkas appearing to do a nazi salute in front of a Holocaust memorial.

All these candidates ended up losing; Momentum’s Ákos Hadházy won against Tóth in Zugló with a thumping 80%-20% result. Judit Földi lost against MSZP’s Roland Márton, and Barnabás Péter Farkas lost against socialist Sándor Kiss in Ózd.

Despite the few individual losers, the primaries were a great success for the opposition as a whole. First of all, the dodgy past of some of their potential candidates came to light now and they won’t hinder their chances in 2022. Secondly, the primary campaigns ensured that the opposition’s politicians and activists have had some practice in their local constituencies before the main challenge next year.

Finally, the real success for the opposition is the 8% turnout which is unexpectedly high and even higher than the 7.9% of the American population participating in the 2020 Democratic primaries. The opposition managed to dominate the news cycle for a month and involve more than 600.000 voters in their democratic process. As the second-round approaches, the buzz the primaries are generating will likely continue for weeks.

By Ábel Bede

Ábel Bede was born in Budapest and has two degrees in History from Durham University. He specialised in Central Europan history and has been contributing to Kafkadesk since 2019. Feel free to check out more of his articles right here!