After the Elections: Hungary Divided
The elections on April 8, 2018 gave Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz party another two-thirds majority in parliament. Attila Juhasz explains why this does not imply a broad support for the concept of ‘illiberale democracy’. The hungarian society is deeply devided and Orbán knows how to use it for his purposes.
The way mandates won in the April 8 general election are distributed among political parties in Hungary suggest there is widespread political unity in the country. The governing Fidesz gained a two-thirds majority in the National Assembly with a voter turnout of over 70%, winning 91 single-member constituencies and 49% of votes on party lists. Moreover, the governing party – according to the incomplete data known at the time of this writing – collected 364 203 new votes compared to 2014.
Maybe not even Fidesz foresaw this kind of expansion because polling organisations measured Fidesz to be more popular than it actually was in the run-up to the previous four elections. Thus, it was expected once again that uncertain voters would strengthen the opposition. This is the reason why it was supposed that a higher voter turnout would favour the opposition as well as the fact that the experiences of by-elections also pointed to that direction. However, this is the opposite of what went down in the general election: the relatively high voter turnout only benefited the opposition in the capital, while in the countryside and especially in small settlements Fidesz profited from it. Finally, Jobbik mostly managed to keep its popularity on 2014 levels, and only managed to win one single-member constituency (Dunaújváros), vastly underperforming its own expectations.
Centre-left parties only reshuffled their votes among each other: in 2014, the lists of MSZP-DK-Együtt-PM-MLP and LMP altogether received 1 558 151 votes, while in 2018 the lists of MSZP-Párbeszéd, DK, Együtt, LMP, Momentum and MKKP gained 1 583 440 according to currently available data. The main achievement of the fragmented left-wing opposition is that they could beat Fidesz in Budapest. Compared to 2014, the opposition won four more mandates in the capital’s single-member constituencies, 12 out of 18. Moreover, they could have won 5 of the remaining 6 constituencies in the capital if there was wider cooperation there. Jobbik would only have been needed to be included in the cooperation in Budapest’s 6th single-member constituency. These results are a good indication that the Budapest-countryside division in Hungary is deeper than ever. Only one left-wing candidates could win a single-member constituency outside of the capital, the socialist candidate was re-elected in Szeged, and independent candidate Tamás Mellár won a mandate in Pécs.
Looking at territorial data, it can be observed that the governing party can largely thank its considerable victory to the party’s outstanding popularity in villages (58%). Jobbik also has a presence in small settlements, but left-wing parties barely have any support on this level. In cities and larger towns with county rights the distribution of votes is more balanced, but even here only Fidesz and Jobbik could gain strength, while the left lost votes here as well. Thus, the end result is that Budapest has become an island for left-wing opposition parties within the country, where Fidesz became significantly weaker and Jobbik could not become a relevant actor in the capital regardless of its moderation strategy.
Data also reveals that the more underdeveloped and the poorer a settlement is, the better Fidesz’s results are. The reason for this is rarely the generous social policies and effective development policies of Fidesz. The strong effect of the government’s campaign focusing on nothing but the migration threat, the restriction of the public domain in the countryside to the government’s propaganda, votes becoming controllable due to locals’ dependence on the government and the fact that the governing parties have a more visible organisational presence in small settlements are more likely suspects. Additionally, there are elements of the government’s politics that enjoy real support in villages, for example the Public Works Scheme and law and order policies. In contrast, Jobbik is not competitive enough in villages; the old organisations of the left-wing opposition do not exist anymore and new parties’ local organisations do not exist yet.
The political divisions visible in territorial-level data are also tangible from a sociological point of view. The election result confirmed what public opinion polls had already indicated earlier. The composition of the governing party’s electorate has practically been reshuffled: the share of bourgeois, educated voters, those from higher social strata, and Hungarians living in the capital has fallen among Fidesz voters, while the number of Fidesz supporters from villages and small towns, people from lower social strata has increased considerably. Fidesz supporters are getting older and older, only the supporters of the fatefully aging MSZP are older than them. At the same time, the youth – which is more active than it used to be – now mainly support relatively new parties such as Jobbik, LMP and Momentum, and Fidesz is also incapable of reaching them. It is also a characteristic change that wherever education-related indicators are the most favourable Fidesz lost votes, while the party made huge gains among the uneducated population.
After the general election, Fidesz’s advantage over the fragmented opposition is unquestionable, and the government’s legitimacy and stability cannot be doubted either. Nevertheless, Hungarian society is rarely expected to return to tranquillity. Domestic votes counted so far reveal that around 2.5 million votes were cast on Fidesz and slightly more were cast on all opposition parties altogether. Due to the electoral system, the governing party received two-thirds of mandates in the National Assembly, which is in itself hard to accept for those who voted against the Orbán-government and were in the majority if we only look at what the raw numbers show. Moreover, election data mirror the multiple divisions in Hungarian society. There is a deep division between the capital and the countryside, the old and the young as well as between those living in developed and undeveloped territories. Political identities diverging in all possible aspects and parallel realities have developed, and there is basically no transit between these two.
For the majority of the governing party’s voters, Viktor Orbán and his party are the sole representatives of the nation. For them – not independently of Orbán’s post-2002 politics based on this message – whoever criticises the governing party is a traitor, pro-immigration foreign agent, but at least a bad Hungarian. In this environment, Fidesz generated a mood where in some campaign events the supporters of the governing party even demand the execution of some opposition figures. In contrast, there is no unified political identity on the opposition’s side, but the prime minister and his closest circle is viewed as a corrupt organised crime group by all members of it. The government’s ever-intensifying, almost absurd anti-immigration campaign based on fear has created a fake reality for the supporters of the government which basically excludes any other problems from the public domain, and many in the ranks of the opposition are incapable of accepting and understanding these fears. Partly as a consequence of this incapability, disdainful references to governing party voters as “countryside people” have surfaced after the election, and thousands of voters casting their ballots against Fidesz are thinking about emigrating from the country. Grievances are so deep and unreconcilable that currently it is almost unimaginable that the two conflicting sides would accept each other. However, on the party political scene Fidesz’s interest is maintaining this division because as long as the governing party is unified and the opposition is fragmented, society’s disunity is going to keep the Orbán regime in power. In fact, the constant display of enemy images is the only thing that can keep the governing party’s supporters in one camp.
Consequently, the next Orbán-government’s politics is not going to change in a meaningful way regardless of the fact that many expect the regime would turn towards consolidation. The high voter turnout and the secure majority in the National Assembly provides the necessary legitimacy to the government to complete the illiberal political system it has built over the past eight years and allow for even more repressive power politics. The government is going to further restrict the space for critical media and NGOs. Therefore, opportunities for creating political alternatives will also be restricted.
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