Hungary Insight

Hungary’s united opposition finally gets going, but how far can they go?

In the months after the euphoric primaries, Hungary’s opposition parties were widely criticised for disappearing from the public eye. In some ways, quieter months were expected. For one, activists were exhausted and some of them were bound to be disappointed after the unlikely victory of Péter Márki-Zay.

But Márki-Zay’s surprise victory also meant that a new figure entered the opposition’s negotiating table and many formerly settled questions had to be renegotiated or became more complicated.

Some parties were also in internal turmoil. After his disastrous performance during the primaries, András Fekete-Győr lost a vote of confidence in Momentum’s main decision-making body and resigned. Thus, the party was busy organising and conducting a leadership contest which was won, somewhat surprisingly, by social-liberal Anna Donáth. Jobbik-leader Péter Jakab also had to stabilise his position after his lacklustre performance at the primaries.

But it would be untruthful to blame the opposition’s months-long inactivity merely on essential maintenance. Reports suggested real conflict and tensions within the alliance of the six parties and Péter Márki-Zay. There were signs of tensions as early as a week after the primaries. The attendance was quite low at the October 23 rally, which, in theory, was organised to end the primaries on a high note with a huge spectacle.

Fidesz’s rally a few blocks away in Budapest on the same day easily trumped the opposition’s event both in attendance and scale. At the time, reports suggested that the opposition parties scaled back their mobilisation efforts for the rally to show independent Márki-Zay that he is powerless without them.

Frictions

Frictions first became apparent in November, however, when Momentum’s new leader, Anna Donáth criticised Márki-Zay’s “migrant counter” billboards which displayed the number of migrants brought to Hungary by George Soros and Viktor Orbán respectively.

With the billboards, Márki-Zay stated that he aimed to highlight Orbán’s hypocrisy in his anti-immigrant rhetoric. Donáth, however, criticised the opposition’s leader for using the same tools as Fidesz. Contrary to her predecessor, Donáth gave a strong left-of-centre character to her party which is naturally at ease with Márki-Zay’s right-of-centre conservatism.

However, according to reports, the main source of tensions was Márki-Zay’s desire for an independent faction within Parliament. This would have inevitably required parties to sacrifice the parliamentary seats of some of their own politicians on the list. The most fiercely opposed to this idea were Péter Jakab and his party Jobbik. Jobbik likely felt that a new right-of-centre party would threaten their monopoly as the only anti-Fidesz right-wing force.

The conflict between the two politicians reached its highest point when Jakab essentially labelled Márki-Zay stupid for his comments about the elderly; in late December Márki-Zay stated that Fidesz likely have fewer voters than they had in 2018 because the pandemic ripped through the elderly population.

By December, the relationship between Márki-Zay and the parties was at its lowest point. That month, what was said to be an internal poll was leaked to 444 which showed Fidesz leading by 14%. The poll was later criticised for being inaccurate and unrealistic but most opposition figures offered conflicting reports about whether it was genuine. Márki-Zay later lashed out and stated that there are still a number of traitors in the opposition.

“Unity For Hungary”

However, there are signs that the Alliance is getting its act together with the start of the new year. Recently, Telex wrote that the main conflicts have been settled. Márki-Zay won’t have a parliamentary faction but in exchange, the opposition parties offered significant concessions in other matters. The manifesto will not include any tax rises and it will promise that Hungary will start the process of introducing the Euro as a currency within five years. Márki-Zay was also granted greater influence on campaign related-issues.

The Alliance also revealed its common design and logo and the parties announced that they would be called “Unity For Hungary” on the ballot paper. Shortly before Christmas, they started collecting signatures for their referendum campaign against Fudan University and to extend the jobseeker’s allowance from 90 to 270 days. In mid-January, Márki-Zay also started his tour around the country, holding speeches and Q&A sessions in various busy public spaces.

The opposition is expected to collect the required 200.000 signatures for their two referendum questions before the end of the week. This means that the referendum could theoretically be held on April 3, the same day as the general election. This would help the opposition to push their own narrative during the campaign and it would also counter Fidesz’s already confirmed, so-called child protection referendum.

However, as the date of any referendum is decided by the Hungarian president, Fidesz-loyalist János Áder, it is unlikely that it would be a favourable one for the Opposition. Regardless of the referendum’s timing, the Opposition seems to have started campaigning earlier than Fidesz and as a result, they might be about to recapture the momentum they had during the primaries.

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!

Coordinated by Ábel Bede, Kafkadesk's Budapest office is made up of a growing team of freelance journalists, editors and fact-checkers passionate about Hungarian affairs and dedicated to bringing you all the latest news, events and insights from Hungary.