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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