Written by Chirine Aboussaad and Charisa Chotoe
For many years now Hungarian politics is being led by Orbán’s FIDESZ party. When looking at the numbers, Budapest – the country’s only big city – voted in large numbers for DK, MSZP and Momentum. A majority of the votes for Orbán are coming from the country-side. “They only listen to radio stations and broadcasters owned by the regime.”
BUDAPEST – There doesn’t seem to be a neutral approach to Hungary’s leader Viktor Orbán. Left-wing politicians condemn him and his conservative, nationalist policies of fear-mongering about immigrants and after that promising to tackle the immigrant crisis that Europe has been facing for the past few years, whereas his fellow conservatives and populists praise him.
The Dutch politician for Forum of Democracy Thierry Baudet, for example, went as far as calling himself a big fan during a campaign event a few days before the European elections. President Trump of the United States praised the Hungarian prime minister, being the first president in twenty years to invite Orbán to the White House.
Viktor Orbán is the leader of right-wing conservative party Fidesz – Hungarian Civic Alliance, a post he has held two times: from 1993 to 2000, and then again from 2003. He has also served multiple terms as the Prime Minister of Hungary: he assumed office from 1998 until 2002, resuming that position in 2010 and holding it ever since. Critics of his policies also struggle with his views on immigration, the way he gives his friends powerful positions and the way he structures the Hungarian constitution in his favour, to mention a few.
Dorián Elek, a Budapest based political analyst and founder of think tank and research organisation Paradigm Institute, explains why Hungary voted the way it did. The Demokratikus Koalíció (DK, social-liberal) managed to be the second most powerful party nationwide and in all counties with an estimated 16,26% of the votes. Momentum (centrist party) finished third with 9.92% of the nationwide votes according to the national election office. “The rural working class is more dependent on the government. They are the general voters base of FIDESZ-KDNP and are getting a lot more attention from the current government than other groups within Hungary. Also, they only listen to radio stations and broadcasters that are owned by the regime, because it’s usually the only form of media that’s available to them.”
Elek continues to explain one of the tactics Orbán’s party uses to influence Hungarian voters. “So, since the government bought all the media, FIDESZ is obviously using it to promote their agenda. Provincial inhabitants are really defined by what they see or hear from state-owned media. They’re taking the news in, not questioning it. For example, they have the perception that tons of migrants are coming in and that these will take away their Christian heritage and they believe that FIDESZ will stop that.”
Highest turnout to date
This year’s European Parliament elections were the fourth election of its kind since Hungary joined the European Union in 2004. Their entrance to the European Union also made Hungarians eligible to vote for European Parliament. Since that first election, the majority vote has steadily gone to Viktor Orbán’s FIDESZ-KNDP coalition. Remarkable is the increase in voter turnout from 38,5% during the first election in 2004, to a turnout of 43,36% voters in this election, making it the highest turnout for Hungary to date.
One of the reasons for Orbán’s continuous success is his luck with having a heavily divided opposition of which none of the parties shows steady results like FIDESZ or the coalition FIDESZ-KDNP do. An example is the radical right-wing party Jobbik who won 14,8% of the votes during 2014’s European Parliament election, only to end up just 6,4% of the votes during this year’s election. The ruling party, edged out its centre-left rivals, the Social Democrats (SDP), by 22,72% to 18,71%. In total, the HDZ claimed four seats and the Social Democrats won three. Four of the smaller parties are getting one seat per party.
Elek feels that the opposition has actually risen up and put actual effort in their campaign, even though they can’t seem to produce consistent results. “A part of the opposition had a really strong-European message, while some others that are part of the opposition, like the socialist with progressive views, did not really put their opinion out there. They did not really campaign as big as other parties, it wasn’t really picked up”, he tells us.
“And then, of course, the trust issues, especially against Jobbik and LMP (Hungary’s green party, red). Hungarians are known for their distrust against politicians and politics in general. So in a sense, those with a socialist view went for DK this election and the base of LMP went to Momentum. As for Momentum, they haven’t really succeeded in the past, so you could say their voters are giving them a chance to prove themselves.”
“Most passive civil society”
When talking about the voting behaviour of the Hungarians, Elek thinks it can definitely have something to do with the typical characteristics of the Hungarian constituents. “We have the most passive civil society out there. I feel like they haven’t rebuilt them self ever since the transfer from the switch to a different regime. The civil society was way more active almost thirty years ago. On the other hand, Hungarian society is conditioned to let politicians do politics and they won’t interfere. The same goes for political sides. I mean, one-half of the voters, the core base of Orbán, is concerned that Soros (a Hungarian-American billionaire businessman who is heavily critical of Orbán and vice-versa, red.) will bring migrants to the country that will eat us alive, that’s obviously an exaggeration, but they believe the government will protect them.”
“The other half of the voters see that the government is corrupt and has ties with Russia and China. There are some great differences between those who are questioning political reports and those who only consume state-owned media. A very large portion of society is having a drastically exaggerated perception of the other,” Elek concludes on the subject.
This fall Hungarians will be called to vote again, this time for local elections in which they will elect their local authorities into office. Elek doesn’t expect Fidesz to lose its popularity. “Hungary is the third most corrupt country in the European Union, but most people don’t understand the corruption because of its complexity. If there will be a big corruption scandal that will actually be easier to understand by especially the countryside voters – so the core base of Orban’s voters – then his popularity will of course decrease. But his popularity will not go down anytime soon.”