Hungary Insight

Opinion: Hungary’s election won’t be the endgame both sides want it to be

Both the United Opposition and Fidesz will portray April’s general election as the final decisive battle for their cause. Both of them are wrong.

On February 12, the campaign for April’s general election in Hungary officially started. The United Opposition and Fidesz started collecting signatures from the public. Viktor Orbán made his trademark state-of-the-nation speech on Monday to kickstart the campaign on the Fidesz side, while Márki-Zay started heating up his campaign events which have been going on for the past few weeks.

It is a cliché to label every upcoming election the most important in a country’s history but the two sides are certainly not shying away from this claim this time. The opposition side asks: will Orbán and his cronies be defeated and brought to justice with a return to democracy? Or will Fidesz’s victory push Hungary’s future towards becoming a Russophile autocracy outside of the EU?

On the Fidesz side, they ask: will Orbán prove that even a united opposition can’t stop the will of the people who rise up against Brussels and the “globalist elite”? Or will Hungary be forced to accept the terrors of gender ideology, colonialism and foreign interference? Viktor Orbán even openly suggested in his yearly state-of-the-nation speech that his hope is that, if they beat the opposition now, they won’t have another chance to even contest again.

It is true that the elections in 2022 will be the most competitive and unpredictable election since 1990. However, while the outcome this April will unquestionably have a long-lasting effect on the future of Hungary as well as the Opposition and Fidesz, whichever way the results go, the long-term endgame is not as straightforward as the activists and campaign slogans of the two blocs suggest.

The opposition’s victory would certainly create a brand-new playing field in Hungary with some elements of democracy likely returning. However, Orbán and his influence would hardly be gone for good. In the past decade, Fidesz cemented its position in various arms of the Hungarian state.

Judges at Hungary’s highest court were appointed by Fidesz and many of them could easily be loyal enough to obstruct Márki-Zay’s government. The head of Hungary’s Media Authority resigned prematurely before her 10-year mandate ended so that the present-day Fidesz dominated parliament could choose her successor.

Though there are suggestions from the opposition-side that they would aim to untangle the constitution and its elements that maintain Fidesz’s soft power even without getting a ⅔ majority in parliament with the use of referenda, the feasibility of these proposals is highly questionable.

Even outside of the realms of the state, Fidesz’s oligarchs accumulated an obscene amount of wealth which would be able to fund any sort of potential Fidesz fightback in opposition. The companies of Fidesz-aligned businessmen such as Lőrinc Mészáros won so many tenders and public procurement contracts in the past decade that they would be likely to keep winning more even in even contests due to the experience of their organisations.

This could maintain Fidesz’s soft power within the Hungarian business world. Adding this to the local Fidesz-strongmen in villages would cause a great deal of headache for anyone who wants to establish a level playing field and real freedom of enterprise.

Though a defeat would undoubtedly be demoralising, opposition voters should not fall on their swords either, even if they don’t win the election this time. Though the winner of the election is fairly difficult to predict with outright confidence, it is almost certain that whichever alliance win, they won’t have a ⅔ majority.

This would create an entirely new state of play. Fidesz would not be able to amend the rules further to help their cause. The system would be set and unchangeable and the opposition would already know how best to fight it.

Plus, if their majority is on a knife-edge, Fidesz would need to do more to appease their moderates, who have been entirely neglected since 2015. In this scenario, their voice would have a significantly greater weight within the party which could force Fidesz to try and consolidate.

One thing is for sure, however. Despite not being a real life or death contest for either side, both campaigns will treat it as such. The campaign of next 6 weeks will be brutal, even by the standards of the Hungarian public sphere.

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.