Commentary on the Hungarian elections

On the 8th of April the awaited and highly observed Hungarian legislative elections took place. Indeed, the nearly 8 million voters were asked to express their free opinion on the political future of the country.

The elections took place in a context of heavy campaign against migration, the UN, “Brussels” and George Soros from the ruling party, Fidesz led by the well-known Prime Minister, Orbàn Viktor. Despite harsh criticism from a very divided and fragmented opposition not willing to coordinate its candidates against the party of Mr. Orbàn, the negative campaign led by Fidesz maintained them well ahead in the polls. In this context, there is need to emphasize that independent media suffered a heavy pushback over the last eight years of governance, therefore during the campaign most major news outlets and even local broadcasters were succumbed by the state propaganda.

The outcomes of what we can call free but not fair elections weren’t surprising at all. In fact, Fidesz performed as good as 4 years before securing 2/3 majority for one seat and winning by nearly 50% of the votes. The impressive result led to a stunning win in the Hungarian countryside whereas Budapest stays mostly under the dominance of the opposition.

The results of the elections raise many concerns. The main reasons are the following:

First, the division of the opposition is partly responsible for the result and becomes quite concerning. After coalition in 2014 and coordination now in 2018, the opposition is not making enough progress to change the fate of the country. In order to win individual electoral districts, a total coordination would have been necessary between far-right Jobbik, and the parties of the left wing opposition. However, due to ideological differences, and the staunch resistance of Jobbik, positioning itself as the only potential challenger of Fidesz, an alliance between the two sides was never realized. Even though at certain districts the left could agree on fielding one single candidate, this was not enough to secure mandates for most of those candidates. Unfortunately, such practices weren’t widespread and the competition amongst the democratic opposition parties took over. The campaign was heavily dominated by permanent coalition talks, often resulting in opposition leaders engaging in public name calling, and even blatantly disrespecting each other. The opposition was unable to present their vision for a better country, and as a result, voters struggled to find a credible alternative to the current regime. This feature avoided a complete opposition victory in the Hungarian capital city for instance.

Moreover, the Hungarian electoral system and especially the electoral rules can be criticized. In fact, Fidesz, the governing party received the vote of 33% of the entire population (49.6% of those who turned out to vote) and gets more than 2/3 of the seats. This big difference can be explained by several features. On the one hand, intelligent and extensive Gerrymandering was engineered by Orbán’s allies and on the other hand, the extremely majoritarian voting system that abolished the second voting round draws clear differences in the results. Moreover, there are alarming discrepancies between the voting rights of Hungarians who moved to the west and that of the Hungarian ethnic minorities living in the neighboring countries: while the latter are allowed to vote by post, the former are required to travel to their respective embassies to cast their ballots. There is a clear distinction between the voting behaviour of the two selective groups: 96.24 % of the postal votes supported the governing party, while only 7.5% of the embassy ballots were in their favour.

We should also highlight some irregularities during the electoral process. Indeed, significant amount of people were allegedly moved by bus from one place to another and others got paid to cast their votes. Furthermore, it was a widely raised concern that state sector workers, especially those employed in the public works program were allegedly threatened to lose their jobs if they don't vote for Fidesz. Due to the inadequate control over the ethnic citizenship program, the Fidesz machine also delivered citizenships and thus the right to vote to foreigners for example in Ukraine. At many instances, the population of villages bordering the neighbouring countries suddenly increased by a large extent, with dozens of people being registered as virtual inhabitants of remote factories or abandoned townhouses. These discrepancies were never investigated, despite extensive reporting by the independent media.

Finally, the political meaning of these results and the remain on full power of Orbán’s party cause many challenges. On a domestic level, Orbán promised retaliation against the opposition and the so-called “Soros soldiers” who dare to criticize the Prime minister. The widespread institutionalized corruption risks to be extended including strong breaches to the rule of law and further undermine of democracy in Hungary.

On a European level, the strong legitimacy Fidesz will be claiming from this victory will further acknowledge the “Hungarian” stance on migration and European integration. Strong actor of the V4, Orbán has more than ever a strong and legitimate mandate to rally other countries to his cause and impose his ideas at European level. The illiberal ideology will be gaining ground until European leader’s especially European People’s Party leaders don’t stop their support to Orbán.

Hence, it is completely unacceptable that Manfred Weber, the President of the EPP group in the European Parliament strongly congratulated Mr. Orbàn for his victory in the Hungarian elections on Twitter.

After the results of the elections, the future relations between the European institutions, other EU Member States and Hungary will be highly defined by two specific topics: the importance of the cohesion funds for Hungary who benefits largely and at the same time the fight over democracy and European values not shared by the ruling elite.

Therefore, we ask for European leaders to speak up against the abuses of power of the governing party in Hungary and call for real actions against Mr. Orbàn.

We remind that all democrats should unite to support the Hungarian civil society and the democratic principles anchored in the treaties.

Especially as young liberals, we should share the concerns for respect of rule of law in our Union and stand by in solidarity with our fellow European citizens for their individual freedoms and rights.

Bàlint Gyévai, IMS / International Officer, FEL and Katalin Cseh, IMS

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April 18 2018

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