Hungary Insight

What’s next for Hungary?

After a heavy defeat, the opposition turns to infighting and ponders what to do. Meanwhile, Fidesz’s intelligentsia debates whether the regime should turn to moderation and compromise.

As shown by the speed at which it crumbled, the opposition’s Unity was always a necessity rather than a genuine wish. As early as the night of the election, Jobbik’s Péter Jakab and DK’s Ferenc Gyurcsány immediately put all the blame on opposition-leader Péter Márki-Zay. He, in turn, accused Gyurcsány and Jobbik of not being fully behind the opposition’s campaign. The Socialist Party defended Márki-Zay, though they stressed that the alliance was not able to talk about its welfare measures effectively due to having a right-of-centre leader.

In an interview a few weeks later, after announcing that the party would contest the 2024 European Parliamentary Election alone, Párbeszéd’s Bence Tordai accused the alliance’s other green party, LMP, of getting too close to Ferenc Gyurcsány and becoming “DK’s Green Platform.” In return, Péter Ungár, LMP’s new parliamentary leader sarcastically stated that he was happy to hear that 10 years after its creation, Párbeszéd is ready to contest an election alone. He added that there should be more time for self-reflection before they start any campaign after a humiliating defeat.

Momentum’s Anna Donáth seemed to stress the responsibility of her own party and Momentum politicians generally kept quiet regarding the faults of their allies. This approach was universally commended and it seemed that Momentum could be the only party that would manage to come out of the defeat without losing face and perhaps it could even gain some support from the disillusioned voters of other opposition parties.

Their positive coverage ended as their communication regarding their approach to parliament became chaotic. Days after the election results were announced, Momentum’s soon-to-be Parliamentary leader, András Fekete-Győr stood beside Ákos Hadházy (an independent MP who ran in Momentum colours and agreed to sit in Momentum’s parliamentary faction) and announced they would boycott the inaugural sitting of the new Parliament.

Hadházy was a long-term advocate of this strategy. However, the fellow opposition parties disagreed with the proposal and criticised Momentum for making the decision public before the six parties could come up with a common approach. The critics of the plan also argued that it was too symbolic and would only interest core, educated opposition voters, which was the main fault of their campaign that backfired heavily during not just the latest but all the previous elections.

After the backlash, Momentum announced they would participate in the first sitting on five conditions. These conditions fell on deaf ears. Days after they listed their conditions, the party announced that they would participate anyway, however, they would walk out after pledging their oaths. Hadházy labelled the decision “catastrophic” and said he would need to think about his cooperation with Momentum. Later that afternoon, a Momentum spokesperson signalled that the MP would no longer be welcome in the party’s faction, which Hadházy claimed he learnt from the press.

In the end, Momentum, Párbeszéd, and DK left the chamber after pleading their oaths at the inaugural sitting on May 2 (though DK and Párbeszéd returned later). Though in itself highly insignificant, the affair hints at the main dilemma that is likely to dominate opposition politics in the upcoming political cycle. Should the opposition accept the current system and try to work within it and influence the country’s politics accordingly or should they work against the system and try and dismantle it altogether?

The battle lines in this question are starting to be drawn. Though DK was one of the parties to leave the inaugural meeting of parliament, it will likely be the leading party among those who wish to operate within the current system. The ambition of Ferenc Gyurcsány’s party has always been to become the dominant and eventually the only force within the opposition and challenge Orbán afterwards.

Neither LMP nor Jobbik decided to boycott parliament in any way and as in the past few months they have been increasingly aligning themselves with DK, they will likely be the other two members of the more “legitimist” bloc. János Stummer, who is set to take on Péter Jakab in Jobbik’s leadership election this weekend, openly stated that this would likely be a conflict within the opposition, while LMP’s Ungár said that they would like to help heal the wounds of the radical political division in Hungary.

They might have more room for manoeuvre than it would seem at first glance. Ever since Fidesz’s latest landslide victory, there has been an emerging and surprisingly public debate within the Hungarian right’s intelligentsia regarding a need to make some gesture towards the opposition. Fidesz-affiliated columnist Gábor Bencsik stated that the public media’s pro-Fidesz bias is unsustainable, while right-wing filmmaker Fruzsina Skrabski and Székesfehérvár’s Fidesz mayor András Cser-Palkovics also expressed similar sentiments.

Additionally, Márton Békés, a Fidesz ideologue, argued for the need to end the culture wars and start building a national consensus. Even Fidesz’s most radical prominent, the speaker of the Hungarian Parliament, László Kövér, stated that they would be open to “normalise the relationship” between Fidesz and certain opposition parties. Many are sceptical about how genuine Kövér’s words are and it is highly unlike Viktor Orbán’s personality to moderate or allow room for his opponents and Fidesz’s intelligentsia tend to follow his guidance. But these sentiments and public debates are something that the Hungarian public rarely sees from Fidesz circles.

On the other side of the opposition’s debate regarding their approach to the illiberal regime are the two newest parties, Párbeszéd and Momentum, who made their stance crystal clear with their boycott and a few statements by their leaders. The big question mark will be socialist MSZP’s position on the matter, who though did not boycott parliament in any way this time, tend to align themselves with Párbeszéd and their entire existence depends on their ability to make themselves distinct from DK.

Deep down, at the heart of this debate lies a question that all opposition parties think about, yet none of them wants to ask: can Fidesz be beaten at an election? Or has Hungary reached the point of no return in its slide to an autocratic regime, where only time and external forces can oust Orbán?

Luckily for the parties, in the short term, whatever the answer to this question is, their immediate to-do list is the same. The election highlighted just how underresourced these parties are outside of Budapest. Many politicians and pundits stressed that in the coming period, their number one priority will be to build up institutions, local infrastructure, and loyal and effective human resources in small towns and villages all over the country.

If it turns out that Fidesz can somehow be beaten at an election, this infrastructure could serve as the basis for the parties to build up supporting communities and mobilise them.

If not, the institutions can serve the purpose of maintaining, nurturing, and renewing schools of thought and engaging with communities who, once the time comes, will be prepared to seize their chance after the collapse of Hungarian illiberalism.

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!