Saturday

13th Apr 2024

'Nightmare' 2024 sees Orbán struggle ahead of EU elections

  • Hungary has 21 seats in the European Parliament, 13 of which belong to the coalition of Fidesz and its junior coalition partner, the Christian Democrats (KDNP) (Photo: European Parliament)
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With less than four months to go before the European Parliament elections, Hungary's ruling Fidesz party has lost two of its most important European figures — but the country's fragmented opposition might struggle to capitalise on these losses.

Hungarian president Katalin Novák, who often led diplomatic negotiations with other conservative European parties, resigned amid public outrage that she had wrongly pardoned the accomplice of a paedophile last April.

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  • The satirical Hungarian Two-Tailed Dog Party (MKKP) is known for its creative use of street art and its famous proposal for a "Smaller Hungary" — contrary to calls of nationalists to enlarge the country to its former borders from 1920 (Photo: Atlatszo Foto)

And Judit Varga, who was expected to lead Orbán's European Parliament list in June, also quit politics because she had countersigned the pardon in her previous role as justice minister.

Losing them had deeply affected Fidesz's plans for the future, a scenario for which the ruling party was not prepared.

"2024 couldn't have started any worse, it's like a nightmare", Orbán admitted in his state of the nation speech last Saturday.

The scandal provided a rare opportunity for Hungary's opposition, which played a crucial role in forcing the resignation of president Novak, uniting behind the message that she was unfit for office.

However, unlike the 2022 national elections, these parties have decided to run separately for the European Parliament — meaning their voters will be faced with at least eight different choices.

"Fragmentation is a major problem for the Hungarian opposition", says András Bíró-Nagy, director of Policy Solutions, a think tank in Budapest.

"If three-four parties among them will fall below the five-percent threshold, it could easily mean a double-digit loss in terms of total votes. This means Fidesz could win the same number of seats in the European Parliament as five years ago, even with fewer votes", he added.

Hungary has 21 seats in the European Parliament, 13 of which belong to the coalition of Fidesz and its junior coalition partner, the Christian Democrats (KDNP).

According to Bíró-Nagy, the opposition parties view the election campaign as an internal competition, focusing on how they stand against each other rather than the ruling party. Orbán, on the other hand, is preparing to reassert his position after the scandal and come out of defensive mode.

"In his state of the nation speech, he said that it is better to give than to receive, admitting that his party has received a big slap in the face he needs to close," he said.

Newcomers

The run-up to the European Parliament and local elections (which will be held both on 9 June) is further complicated by newcomers to the race, including far-right Our Homeland and satirical Hungarian Two-Tailed Dog Party (MKKP).

They both participated in the 2019 European Parliamentary elections but failed to win any seats. This time, the picture is very different.

According to the latest polls, Our Homeland is attracting about nine percent, while the Two-Tailed Dogs scored eight percent, coming in as second and third parties within the opposition. Political analysts see their popularity as another sign that voters are critical of mainstream parties.

Notorious for their absurdist humour, Hungary's Two-Tailed Dog Party became an official party in 2014, initially campaigning on the slogan "free beer and eternal life". Recently, however, they have become more political, winning seats in local elections, and are now eyeing the European Parliament.

Marietta Le, a former journalist, and founder of the mayor's office participation department, will lead the party's list with Katalin Törley, a high school teacher who was sacked for civil disobedience two years ago, in second place.

"There is a strong expectation for the party to get serious. Make things better, seriously," said Le. She also promised that the Two-Tailed Dogs will stay true to themselves.

The party's manifesto insists they will fight against disinformation and corruption, and will also create their own committees, like the "committee to prepare the adoption of each other's national holidays". They will also invite proposals from citizens across the country for their EU programme.

"There is not only the narrative that Brussels is bad, we are good. We need to invest energy to make a difference," she said.

Bring in the radicals

But it is not only Le who is optimistic about the upcoming elections. The president of far-right Our Homeland, László Toroczkai, would find it "very surprising" if they did not win seats in Brussels.

"I would not want to guess how many, but I think more than one", he added.

According to the polls, he may not be far from the truth.

Our Homeland won six seats in the national parliament in 2022. They are known for radical actions against the LGBTQI community, anti-Roma rhetoric and euroscepticism.

They also built a successful campaign against Covid-related restrictions. In 2020, deputy leader Dóra Dúró publicly shredded the children's book Fairyland is for Everyone, which contains tales about disadvantaged groups, including homosexuals.

Political scientists say Our Homeland could lure away the radical voters of Fidesz who are unhappy with the corruption of the ruling elite. But Toroczkai believes his party has a lot of reserves on all political sides because its policies are "sincere and honest".

Though the party has yet to announce its list of candidates for the European elections, Toroczkai is already quite certain of which political group they would join.

"We have a very close relationship with the German AfD, we definitely want to be in the same group as they are, even if that means establishing [a] completely new one", he said.

Another thing Toroczkai is also certain of one thing: Our Homeland will not sit in the same group as Fidesz.

Another sign is that the radical right is trying to distance itself from Orbán and find its own voice on the European stage.

Author bio

Viktória Serdült is a Budapest-based journalist for hvg.hu, covering EU affairs and domestic politics

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