Hungary Insight

How’s the Hungarian opposition doing?

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Budapest, Hungary – Hungary’s mainstream opposition parties have failed to utilise a difficult few months for Fidesz. Meanwhile, far-right Mi Hazánk and satirical Two-Tailed Dog Party have surged in the polls.

Despite their resounding election victory in April, Fidesz has not had an easy few months in office. Inflation is soaring, energy prices are skyrocketing, and EU funds are still not coming. During the summer, the government announced it would scrap the KATA Tax System, which provided favourable conditions for self-employed individuals. This resulted in large-scale protests and bridge occupations.

In October, teachers and students regularly took to the streets after three teachers were fired from Kölcsey Ferenc High School in Budapest for undertaking an act of civil disobedience to fight for better working conditions.

Internal conflicts in the government led to the highly unusual resignation of a cabinet minister in László Palkovics who quit after energy policy was taken from his ministry. Under normal circumstances, this would be an ideal environment for opposition parties to bounce in the polls at the expense of an incumbent government.

However, that is not the case in Hungary nowadays. The disillusionment with the established opposition parties is so deep and so widespread that the main common feature of the KATA protests and the teacher strikes was their anti-party nature. On both occasions, the organisers of the protests specifically announced that though they welcome all politicians as participating private individuals at their events, they should keep their party logos and flags at home.

A recently published poll by the country’s most reliable pollster, Medián, showed no meaningful Fidesz collapse either. So how are the opposition parties trying to regain the trust of the public and come out of their quarantine?

Poll by Medián, commissioned by HVG. Graph by Kafkadesk.
*MMM is Péter Márki-Zay’s civil organisation that has not yet officially decided if it will become a party.

DK has been the largest opposition party since 2019. At Medián they polled at 12% among decided voters, but in a recent survey by IDEA, they even reached a symbolic 20% (however IDEA tends to rate DK favourably in its polls). DK has remained disciplined since the election and tried to distance themselves from the defeat in April. DK and its leader, Ferenc Gyurcsány try to push the narrative that the defeat is that of the PM-candidate Péter Márki-Zay alone and it had nothing to do with them.

Just as the new political season started in September, DK announced they would launch a shadow cabinet, a formerly underutilised practice in Hungarian politics. On the one hand, the shadow cabinet is an innovative idea that is clearly an attempt to present competence and ability to govern.

On the other hand, the idea has been ridiculed ever since its announcement and it is clear that DK, and the opposition as a whole, are still a way off from posing a serious challenge to Fidesz, therefore having a shadow cabinet appears as little more than a very expensive LARP session which failed to make headlines since its initial announcement.

Additionally, DK leader Ferenc Gyurcsány’s unpopularity is still a huge burden on the DK side which they are likely unable to address simply by putting his wife, Klára Dobrev, in the limelight.

Shortly after the election, it seemed that Momentum would be the only party to stabilise and even grow its position in the opposition. Their leader Anna Donáth not only provided a long-awaited clear ideology in social liberalism for the party, but she was one of the leaders who apologised and took responsibility for the opposition’s failures in April.

Her essays about the future of the opposition, Hungary, and its place in Europe were well-received and they demonstrated an almost unprecedented public intellectual contemplation by a Hungarian opposition politician. However, when she announced that she would not stand again for party leadership, Momentum’s woes started to emerge.

Ferenc Gelencsér, a candidate from the conservative wing of the party was elected. He started well (he was photographed taking a protesting delivery driver to the then Minister of Innovation László Palkovics, while he was having dinner at a local restaurant) but made a few gaffes in quick succession afterwards which ruined his reputation shortly after the public learnt his name.

The fact that his conservative-liberal worldview (which is a minority in his party and amongst opposition voters, therefore he is wary of articulating anyway) has just been defeated with the failed prime ministerial bid of Péter Márki-Zay does not help Gelencsér’s case either. However, it would be unwise to blame the lack of Momentum’s progress entirely on Gelencsér. It is unclear if any of his opponents in the internal election, Miklós Hajnal or Gábor Kerpel-Fronius, would be performing better than he does at present.

After Donáth’s departure, no prominent Momentum figures ran for the party’s leadership; MEP Katalin Cseh, MP Anna Orosz, and even Terézváros mayor Tamás Soproni, who is ideologically the closest to Donáth, remained on the sidelines, which raises the question of their responsibility for Momentum’s woes as well. It is possible that they did not want to run because Donáth’s departure is treated more as a maternity leave than a permanent leadership change, but they would have likely been able to lead their party more convincingly than its current leader.

At the time, Donáth’s announcement about not running again appeared to have taken the party and its communication channels by surprise. If, as it appears from the outside, there was no clear plan in place for succession, that highlights the lack of experience of the Momentum establishment.

Back in August, the Hungarian political analyst Ervin Csizmadia argued that it is only Momentum and DK who have a realistic chance of surviving in the opposition field in the medium term. Csizmadia argued that while the other parties aim to offer policy-based politics, DK and Momentum are primarily trying to build up a narrative about their politics, goals, and identity. In Csizmadia’s mind, the next few years will be about which one of them is able to become the dominant force on the opposition side to challenge Fidesz later.

The parties’ behaviour seems to reflect Csizmadia’s analysis. In a recent interview with Válasz Online, Tamás Soproni openly stated that the question on the opposition side for the next few years is “Klára Dobrev or Anna Donáth?” With the shadow cabinet and positioning Dobrev as a shadow-prime minister, DK is also clearly signalling its ambition to become the leading force of the opposition. Whether this battle between DK and Momentum is indeed a battle to decide who will eventually beat Orbán or it is simply an irrelevant fight to become the least irrelevant party out of completely irrelevant parties remains to be seen.

The other four parties who were part of the United Opposition during the last election are all fighting for survival. One of these is the green LMP which had a relatively good few months since the summer. After electing Péter Ungár as their leader, LMP is aiming to put a greater emphasis on its environmentalist side.

In August, they organised a successful protest against the government’s plans to authorise the use of protected forests for firewood production. After a huge public backlash, in part demonstrated by the high attendance at LMP’s protest, the government ditched the plans. LMP is still fighting for survival, just like Jobbik, Párbeszéd, and MSZP but, at present, they have the best chance to make it.

Párbeszéd also has a new leader in Bence Tordai but they were unable to break through in any meaningful way recently. In April, Tordai stated Párbeszéd would contest the 2024 EP election alone, which would be a first in the party’s history.

Last week, however, Ungár stated in an interview that there is a possibility of a united Green list in 2024. At present, it is difficult to see how Párbeszéd would survive alone, despite having prominent politicians in high positions, mostly in the capital where their former leader Gergely Karácsony is the mayor and Márta V. Naszályi is the mayor of its District I, a former Fidesz safe seat.

Despite being the largest opposition party in 2018, Jobbik is now on the verge of collapse. Their leader, Péter Jakab resigned in May shortly after being reelected. All opposition parties underperformed in April, but Jobbik especially so as they could not win a single constituency seat.

Jakab ended up leaving the party altogether after accusing the party’s new leader, Márton Gyöngyösi of trying to silence him and alluding to the idea that he might be cooperating with Fidesz. Jakab founded a new movement, ‘A Nép Pártján’ (On the People’s Side). A Nép Pártján is not even a party yet, however it matches Jobbik’s support in Medián’s recent poll at 2%.

The Hungarian Socialist Party has been going through a prolonged battle against death since the mid-2010s, but they might finally be put out of their misery in the next election. Only polling at around 1%, the party seems to have very few actual voters left. During the summer, one of their most prominent politicians, MEP István Ujhelyi, drew attention by initiating a referendum on Hungary’s membership of the European Union in order to “prevent Fidesz from taking Hungary out of the EU.”

Jobbik’s Gyöngyösi also proposed a similar idea. Ujhelyi withdrew his proposal after he faced severe backlash (support for Hungary’s EU membership is currently at 80%), and Gyöngyösi’s proposed question was rejected by the courts on constitutional grounds.

Ujhelyi left the Socialist Party in October after internal disagreements, therefore they have even fewer nationally known politicians left. The party recently elected Imre Komjáthy as their leader. He is regarded relatively positively, however, finally electing an authentic working-class figure to lead the party is likely too little too late to save MSZP.

Disillusionment with the mainstream opposition parties is so widespread that in Medián’s poll, after DK, the two most popular opposition parties were those who were not among the United Opposition in the last election. After gaining 6% in April, the far-right Mi Hazánk is polling at 9%.

There is a definite ceiling for their support given their ideology, but they seem to be the party that has faced the fewest setbacks in the past few months. However, in the mid-2010s, Jobbik moderated for a reason, and if Mi Hazánk want to eventually go higher than 10-12%, they themselves will also have to compromise on some of their ideas.

Performing just as well in the polls is the Hungarian Two-Tailed Dog Party. The Dogs are a satirical party, attracting voters disillusioned with both the government and the existing opposition parties. After the United Opposition’s disastrous performance in April, their support was bound to increase. The party tends to spend its campaign funding on micro-projects such as renovating local bus stops.

During the summer the Dogs organised a number of protests against the scrapping of the KATA tax system for entrepreneurs which helped boost their profile. However, they seem to have gone quiet since then, at least on the national stage. This indicates that the steady increase in their support has more to do with hostility towards the established opposition parties than their own performance.

As things stand, the Two-Tailed Dog party could conceivably come third in the European Parliamentary Elections in 2024, which would be an extraordinary achievement and rather telling of the state of contemporary anti-Fidesz politics in Hungary.

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.