Remarks from Jobbik MEP Márton Gyöngyösi:
We can safely say that Hungary has not been the country of unexpected political turns during the thirty years since the collapse of communism. Of course, this should not come a surprise as the high winner compensation that was incorporated into the electoral system for the sake of stability made the Hungarian elections a competition of large blocks even before 2010. And we all remember what happened after 2010: an unequal battle between Fidesz, a giga-party that uses state funds, and some small opposition forces constantly undermined by the big one. However, a couple of days ago all of this ended once and for all. The opposition has taken the initiative.
What we saw in the opposition primaries last week was the result of a long learning curve. Being cornered, bled out and even devastated through politically motivated fines by the incumbent Fidesz enjoying unlimited resources and the support of the state administration apparatus, the opposition parties began to realize even before the 2018 elections that they hardly had a chance to combat Viktor Orbán’s regime on their own. However, ideological differences and old habits proved stronger than political rationale. The result was yet another overwhelming Fidesz victory leading to the continuous deconstruction of democracy and the rule of law for four more years.
Drifting away from the European Union, Hungary’s post-2018 political landscape became more and more similar to countries like Belarus. The opposition was fragmented and weak, so the governing Fidesz could do whatever they wanted. The political discourse completely lost its debating nature because the governing party felt no need to engage in a conversation with anyone outside its own circles. In the meantime, Fidesz continued occupying state institutions. The first crack in the regime’s wall came with the municipal elections in 2019, when centre-left, liberal and green parties, which had been fighting amongst each other as well, managed to achieve local agreements with the representatives of centre-right Jobbik to run joint candidates.
The cooperation was hugely successful: the opposition won district after district in major provincial cities and Budapest.
However, it was already clear back then that the real challenge lied in raising this cooperation to a national level for the parliamentary elections. While political differences could often be set aside in municipal elections for the sake of representing local issues, and local organizations were given a free rein to develop their own formula of cooperation, the parliamentary elections were a different story: the opposition had to come up with a united programme and list of representatives as well as a common set of rules to select the candidates for the single-member constituencies and, ultimately, the candidate for Prime Minister.
So the opposition parties decided to lay the final decision in the citizens’ hands by holding a primary election where each opposition party can run its candidate and then endorse the winner of the competition.
Despite being a completely new concept in Hungary, the primary election was a great success. Why?
- The opposition could finally become the key player in the campaign and the implementation of the primaries. Parties with roughly equal resources had equal chances in terms of presenting themselves and their candidates. The agenda was not determined by Fidesz’ governing dominance, but the opposition parties themselves.
- The primary election campaign brought back some classic political methods that had long been gone from Hungary: candidates had actual debates with each other to demonstrate and contrast their positions. Since the competition was open-ended, no candidate could afford to avoid the debate or rely purely on logistics to win.
- The opposition became visible in areas where Fidesz had absolutely dominated the political discourse before. The primary election tents were set up and the performance of the local opposition candidates became the subject of discussion in such rural districts where the governing party had monopolized the discourse for ten years.
- The opposition managed to reinvigorate its own voters. Over 600 thousand citizens cast their ballots in the primaries, allowing the candidates to gain a lot of campaign experience and contacts, which will most likely come handy in the “live” elections next year.
In the meantime, Fidesz actually lost its ability to thematize the political discourse for a long time, and they couldn’t really compensate for this loss by constantly trying to present the opposition primaries as a deception and fraud. In fact, the governing party fell under pressure because many of its own voters could see that, in contrast with Fidesz’ stale politics and one-man control, there was an alternative public discourse where anyone with political aspirations had to enter into debates, have their positions challenged and, ultimately, enter the primaries to win the right to run as a candidate.
All of this is in stark contrast with Fidesz’ common practice where Viktor Orbán single-handedly selects the party’s candidates.
The changes this process triggered in Hungarian politics are clearly shown by how a Budapest candidate of the governing party which has been avoiding any contact with the opposition for eleven years, has already signed up for a debate with his opposition challenger. So not only did the primaries meet the expectations in the sense that the opposition is now able to run joint MP candidates with high legitimacy in 2022, thus making it a real competition, but the process also allowed Hungary’s political discourse to take a step towards normality in the European sense.
Of course, the greatest match is still coming up: to defeat Fidesz in April 2022. However, this goal seems to be closer than ever.
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