After the Elec­tions: Hungary Divided

Foto: Janossy Gergely/​Shutterstock

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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