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Hungarian elections: are the tides turning?

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Orban lost the control of several key cities. The country experiences similar development as Turkey: suburbia remains more loyal to the government, while opposition is growing in cities

After the October 13 municipal elections in Hungary, the governing party of lost control over Budapest and several key cities. The elections, which followed an intense and dirty campaign from both sides, showed party politics is still dominant in decision-making: people would rather vote for party symbols than for the person. Although increased participation (48.57%) proves that people’s interest in politics is again on the rise, it was still far from the record participation of 2006.

It seems clear that after nearly a decade of failures, the opposition finally understood that in the current electoral system, only one joint candidate can successfully challenge the candidate of FIDESZ. The opposition, learning partially from current events in Turkey, were able to put aside their differences, and present one challenger in most cases. Consequently, they gained control over Budapest: the supreme mayor and most district heads will be from the ranks of the opposition, while FIDESZ could likely keep their primacy in only 7 out of 23 districts. It provides a comfortable majority for the opposition parties to run Budapest in the forthcoming five years.

While the Hungarian suburbs – just like in Turkey – remain more loyal to the current government, ten key municipal centers showed a vote of confidence for non-FIDESZ candidates, and only twelve decided to allow the governing party to continue running their cities. Smaller settlements, however, proved to be more pro-government. Similarly, the county councils remain dominated by FIDESZ.

The results of the elections lead us to several questions: what went wrong in Orban’s party? While current scandals might have contributed to the partial defeat of FIDESZ, the greatest mistake was probably the lack of innovative communication: they tried to win with the same clichés (using key expressions such as migration, Soros, calling their opponents communists, etc.), which they have been using over the past few years. Nevertheless, it was just not enough.

Even more importantly, we should ask: what is going to happen in the future? While the opposition is now celebrating their long-awaited victory, it should be clear that while FIDESZ is a monolithic party, the opposition is made up by at least six different political factions with a congruent number of different agendas and interests. They were able to put aside their differences for the past three months and join their forces against FIDESZ. Now they need to maintain their fragile alliance for five years, partially against FIDESZ, and more importantly, for the people they represent. It is dubious to what extent they will be able to accomplish this. It will be in the interest of the governing party to undermine these fragile coalitions in order to show that any leadership other than that of FIDESZ brings only chaos and anarchy.

The myth of Orban as a competent leader might have cracked, but was not severely harmed. FIDESZ still has the trust of millions of people in the country, and it is still too early to predict an electoral defeat of Orban in 2022. Neither does the complexity of the situation permit one to state that FIDESZ lost and the opposition won; it is only clear that Orban’s party was unable to win these elections. Two and a half years remain prior to the next elections; thus he has sufficient time to implement new policies which will increase the fading popularity of FIDESZ. The current elections have sent a warning signal to the Hungarian Prime Minister: dissatisfaction is growing, something must be done. Until there is a favorable economic environment, the government can increase budgetary spending to gain popularity. But when a recession, prognosticated by several economists, strikes, Orban will have limited space in which to maneuver. He will have to avoid austerities at all costs if he wants to survive.

The opposition, after they are done with the celebrations, will face different challenges. They will have to avoid scandals, especially connected to corruption, and must be ready to face and repel character assassination attempts. Many fragile coalitions must be maintained, and success cannot be guaranteed. A large part of electors did not vote for the opposition, but they did vote against FIDESZ, and the real trust of these voters is yet to be gained. If the opposition loses this challenge and allows anarchy to prevail once again among its ranks, it might be that they will have to wait another decade for another victory like this.

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