As Hungary prepares for a general election, all opinion polls point to a record-breaking third successive victory for Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz-KDNP coalition. But with the stakes and frustrations getting ever higher, the political battle – never less than bitter – could get yet more acrimonious, say analysts.
Sunday, 8 April will see Hungarians vote for the eighth democratically elected government since the since the transition from communism in 1990. The overall result is almost a foregone conclusion, according to Ágoston Mráz, chief executive of Nézőpont, a Budapest political think tank close to Fidesz.
“In our latest, December, opinion poll, 64% of Hungarians predict that Mr. Orbán will win the next election and form the next government,” Mráz told foreign journalists earlier this month.
Moreover, the fractured opposition parties – most frantically jockeying for a place in some form of alliance – have thus far failed to outline either the make-up or program of any alternative government, he says.
As a result, “nobody really believes that there could be a change of government. ‘Nobody’ also means the leaders of the opposition, as well as a majority of Hungarians,” he said.
Speaking at the same event, Csaba Tóth, director of the liberal Republikon Institute, largely – if reluctantly – concurred.
“I think the overall picture is clear: Fidesz is very likely to win the next elections [although] I think there is a slight chance that they might lose the absolute majority,” he said, before adding, “it is difficult to see how much of that is wishful thinking on my part”.
The two disagreed, however, on the reasons behind the Fidesz ratings, and whether these will ultimately reflect the vote on polling day.
Artfully deflecting discussion away from the migration issue and Orbán’s controversial leadership role, Mráz emphasized Hungary’s economic growth, improved salary levels and the government drive to bring what it sees as “strategic” sectors under majority Magyar ownership.
Tóth made no effort to contest the poll data; given that his institute measured Fidesz support at 57% in December – a level that, if realized at the ballot box, would easily result in a two-thirds “super majority” for the next Orbán government – he had little choice.
However, he argued the polls fail to capture the entire picture, with government success boosted by massive, one-sided campaigns in state-friendly media, all paid for by tax-payers’ money.
“Corruption has always been an issue, but I think it’s going to be a bigger issue now. You have this overall feeling that the elite of this system is getting richer and richer, and that is causing a lot of frustration,” he said.
And with all parties set to get state support for their campaigns, voters will be exposed to a greater variety of political advertising.
“All the opposition will attack Fidesz, so you will see a different dynamic,” Tóth argued.
Moreover, the feeling is that a new Fidesz government with a two-thirds majority will further tighten the screw on opponents.
“If you perceive this to possibly be your last election, then you campaign differently,” he said: “You campaign harder.”
With Fidesz commanding 50-55% committed voter support in opinion polls, how will parliament’s 199 seats likely be divided up after April 8?
The answer – according to both Tóth and Mráz – is that the complex Hungarian election system contains so many uncertainties that no one can be sure.
Barring a political earthquake, Fidesz-KDNP will emerge as the largest political force, almost certainly keeping their absolute majority, i.e. more than 50% of seats.
Beyond that little is certain.
Voters with an address in Hungary can vote twice: once for their individual constituency (106 seats in total) and once for the ‘party list’ (93 seats).
One imponderable is the large number of Hungarians abroad – particularly those in neighboring countries who have recently acquired citizenship. The latter, overwhelmingly pro-Fidesz in sentiment, may only vote for the national list as they lack a Hungarian residence.
More crucially, within Hungary the outcome will depend on opposition party cooperation.
Jobbik, the former radical-right turned national-populist party, boasts 15-16% approval ratings, but – shunned by others – it is expected to battle alone.
The so-called “left-liberal” parties (comprising the Socialists, Democratic Coalition (DK), Dialogue, Momentum, Liberals and Together) potentially form the largest opposition grouping with some 28% of committed voter support.
But to turn this into seats, they need to cooperate both in the 106 individual constituencies and by forming a joint party list. Thus far, the Socialists have formed a full alliance with Dialogue, and have an agreement with the DK on individual districts, but not on party list candidates.
All this leaves Politics can be Different (LMP), the green-conservatives, as pivotal to the final outcome – even though it currently boasts just 5-6% support. In 2012, LMP eschewed cooperation with the left-liberal bloc, scraping into Parliament just above the threshold 5% share of votes.
Despite insisting that it will again fight alone in April, it is an “open-secret”, according to Tóth, that LMP is open to cooperation, at least in some individual constituencies.
“I think it’s important that in 2014, the left opposition won 10 seats without any coordination with LMP. You will see more coordination [in April],” he says.
Mráz agrees that with so many variables, predictions are difficult. “In our December poll, Fidesz was at 51%, and we were not the highest. My sentiment is that Fidesz will get similar to 2014, that is 44%,” he says, adding, “Fidesz would then have a very strong mandate … whether 110 [seats] or more than 133, a constitutional majority, would depend on the opposition performance.”