The surprise from Sunday’s elections in Hungary was not that Fidesz, the current ruling party, would continue on for a third term, nor was it that Victor Orbán’s Islamophobic, migrant fear-mongering campaign was more effective in the rural areas than in the cities (most notably Budapest), but it was the sheer number of Hungarians who turned out to vote.

While the full results of the election won’t be known for a little over a week (due to absentee ballots coming in from abroad), what is known is that Fidesz is likely to have a constitutional majority, over 2/3 of the parliamentary seats.

Incoherent opposition

The second largest party, Jobbik – which began as a nationalistic far-right option and whose position on the political spectrum was usurped by Fidesz – were able to garner 20% of the vote. Third place went to the Socialists who had a weak showing of only 10% support from the voting population.

There was never much doubt that Fidesz would retain control, but many in the region who support the EU’s institutions and socially-inclusive outlook were hoping this election might punish Orbán for his brash behaviour towards minorities, weakening the rule of law in Hungary as well as the numerous corruption scandals which have plagued the country as of late. Those hopes were sorely misplaced.

Moreover, the large turnout for the vote only reaffirmed the people’s commitment to Orbán, his illiberal reforms and the direction the country has been heading.

“This is an important signal that the Hungarians did not fall into apathy and turned out to cast their vote despite the fact that the ruling party in the polls has had an overwhelming majority [for several years],” Wojciech Przybylski commented [in Polish] in an analytic piece for Polityka.

It appears that – even though the country is becoming ever more isolated in the EU – the populace would still prefer to have a strong leader who is not afraid to face down those in Brussels who clash with his intolerance towards those of different religious and ethnic backgrounds than a coalition government of diametrically-opposed factions.

Jobbik, attempting to turn towards the political centre, softened their approach and apologised for their nationalistic origin and prejudicial past. Though still, it would be difficult to marry their ideology and policy initiatives with centre-left or left-leaning parties like the Socialists, many of whom consider Jobbik to be part of the problem.

That being said, the Socialist candidate for PM, Gergely Karacsony, was willing to work with Jobbik in order to defeat Orbán, though he did qualify his stance, “We have to cooperate with everyone, even with the devil.”

Next-level gerrymandering

Though the poor showing from the opposition is not the only cause for Fidesz’s overwhelming victory. Recently, Hungary has gone through a gerrymandering revolution which all but guaranteed that Orbán would remain in control.

In 2011, Hungary redrew and diminished the number of administrations from 176 to 106. Many of those administrations which would have favoured the opposition were grouped with municipalities which heavily leant towards the government.

This redistricting means that with Fidesz getting 48% of the vote, it will receive at least 67% of the parliamentary seats.

Hope won and lost

Last month, a mayoral race in Hódmezővásárhely, saw a candidate supported by a united front of opposition parties defeat the Fidesz contender. Then, a wave of optimism swept over the land that it could be possible to win back control, even after Fidesz had passed such sweeping election law changes.

But the parties couldn’t unify; there was no leader to do battle directly with Orbán, and following this dismal result, the leader of Jobbik, Gábor Vona, resigned.

The flaw in the crystal ball

The future for those not supporting Fidesz does look bleak. During the campaign, “the Prime Minister repeated threats that they would be clearing out their enemies – including hostile journalists and non-governmental organizations,” wrote Przybylski, in the aforementioned article.

These proclamations coupled with the announcement today that Magyar Nemzet – the largest conservative daily, founded in 1938, and the last which is not outwardly supportive of the government – will be shut down tomorrow, and there is reason to worry that Orbán’s attack on his political opponents is just beginning to ramp up. There is hope that an outside buyer might step in to buy Magyar Nemzet; however, at this point, this is only speculation.

Worse still, Lánchíd Rádió Kft., the last independent radio station in the country will cease broadcasting at midnight tonight. They cited financial difficulties as their main reason for closing down operations, but the timing is suspicious.

For those loyal to Fidesz and Orbán, the outlook couldn’t be brighter, but for those wishing the country to return to a more fair and balanced society, one which holds the tenets of democracy to be fundamental to a prosperous, content country, the situation could not be more dire.

In all likelihood, these media shutdowns will persist and the illiberal majority in Budapest will continue exerting unprecedented pressure on NGOs and members of civil society who oppose their reforms. Perhaps the EU will take issue with some of the more unlawful acts, but this will probably take years to fix.

Managing editor of Visegrad/Insight


Scenarios for cohesive growth

As of 2019 the negotiations about the next Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) will enter a critical moment. In the face of an imminent Brexit and the fallout from global turmoil, the EU has to reflect on its guiding principles and take decisions to fulfil the promise of a united Europe.

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The Visegrad/Insight is the main platform of debate and analysis on Central Europe. This report has been developed in cooperation with the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS).

Launched on 1 October 2019 at the European #Futures Forum in Brussels.