Tuesday

26th Mar 2019

Tactical voting stands in way of Orban's majority

Something unexpected is happening in Hungary these days - there is actually a competitive election campaign before Hungarians head to the polls on Sunday (8 April).

What seemed like a done deal for prime minister Viktor Orban's Fidesz - a third consecutive parliamentary majority - could be undermined by citizens turning to tactical voting, meaning they vote for the strongest opposition candidate despite previous party allegiances.

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  • Hungary's governing party has been running a hate camapign against migrants and US billionare George Soros (Photo: Lydia Gall/Human Rights Watch)

The shock mayoral win in February for an opposition candidate in Hodmezovasarhely, a stronghold of Orban's Fidesz, was made possible because liberal and socialist voters banded together with the far-right Jobbik (that has recently moved to towards the centre), forming an ad hoc alliance unthinkable only a few years ago.

"Up until then, opposition parties were in survival mode, and it seemed like the election was over before it had started," Andras Biro-Nagy, analyst with Policy Solutions, told EUobserver.

However, there is little doubt among experts that most likely Orban will win a third consecutive term, a fourth in total, and Fidesz will hold an absolute majority in parliament.

But the mayoral win prompted opposition voters to demand that their parties put forward a single candidate against those of Fidesz.

"Voters are more determined that something needs to change," Biro-Nagy said.

However replicating the Hodmezovasarhely model across the entire country seems almost impossible, although on Wednesday (4 April) a few opposition candidates stepped aside in several districts.

Almost a third of Jobbik supporters asked in a March poll were willing to support leftist candidates, and 43 percent of leftist voters said they would vote for Jobbik if necessary, Zavecz Research showed on Wednesday.

To circumvent bickering amongst opposition parties, citizens have set up websites advising voters on which candidate is the strongest in each district to help decide whom to support.

Record high voter turnout and a high rate of tactical voting could make it difficult for Fidesz to acquire an absolute majority or maintain a two-thirds majority it once held in parliament.

Built-in advantages

On Sunday Hungarians will vote for candidates running for 106 seats from local constituencies on a first-past-the-post basis, and parties on national lists for a further 93 seats in parliament.

In 2014, Fidesz won 96 of the districts and 45 percent of the votes on the national list, ending up with a two-thirds majority.

A poll by Republikon Institute put Fidesz at 49 percent among people certain to vote, Jobbik at 19 percent and the Socialists at 17 percent.

Although analysts suspect the opinion polls are biased towards Fidesz, because some people are afraid to reveal their true sympathies. In particular, government employees, teachers and doctors fear reprisals or job losses if they are publicly known not to support Fidesz.

Opposition parties also face several hurdles built into the electoral system that favours Fidesz.

The ruling party dominates the media, public and private as well - even if a once-close ally of Orban before their fallout in 2015, the oligarch Lajos Simicska is now fuelling media critical of Fidesz.

Fidesz redrew constituencies to benefit the party, while party financing laws dissuade opposition parties to unite behind one candidate in local districts.

Orban also made it easier for members of the Hungarian minorities in neighbouring countries, who usually vote for Fidesz by around 95 percent, to cast their ballot by allowing them to vote by mail, while Hungarians who emigrated – and tend to support the opposition – can only vote in person.

"It is a system featuring anti-democratic elements," Biro-Nagy pointed out.

Orban's base

The premier who inspired 'illiberalism' in central and eastern Europe, and has gained admirers in western European right wing and far right parties, has turned up the notch on the rhetoric. In the final weeks of the election he had threatened vengeance to anyone who opposes him.

Orban long ago stopped talking to the entire population.

Polls show there are several hundred thousand voters want to see a change in government but have no party. No single opposition parties has been able to rally their support.

One poll puts those who want to see change at 46 percent, while 40 percent are undecided.

Fidesz has a voter base of approximately 2.4 million, a quarter of the total, which is enough to secure the absolute majority.

It only needs to mobilise them, which it does much more efficiently than opposition parties.

Over Easter Orban said only Fidesz puts Hungary's interests first, and that the opposition serves foreign interests dictated by US billionaire George Soros, who has been at the centre of Fidesz's latest hate campaign and who is accused by Fidesz of trying to bring a million migrants into Europe.

"Viktor Orban does not want to convince more voters, he only wants to mobilise his base," Biro-Nagy pointed out.

"Everybody is considered a 'Soros-agent' who does not support Fidesz, this is the rhetoric, this is the mood in the country now," he added.

Orban also accused Western liberal democracies of lying, and falsifying news on migration. He claimed the election is about the very existence of Hungary, saying that opposition parties will allow immigrants into the country, who will destroy its European, Christian culture.

Analysts point out that Fidesz's hate campaign has most likely galvanised the opposition as well.

Point of no return

Orban's win will mean a further escalation in politics and rhetoric, analysts say.

The logic of illiberalism and Orban's combative character prevent any consolidation after the elections.

"The basic logic of the illiberal system will not allow consolidation. This is the political posture it can play," Peter Kreko, an analyst with Political Capital.

"In an illiberal system every criticism is considered treason. If Orban loses his majority Fidesz will not back down, instead will push to dominate media and threaten civil society even more," he adds.

But how far Orban could go is still a matter of debate.

Csaba Toth of the Republikon Institute warns that there is little space where Orban can escalate.

"They will most likely not have a two-thirds majority to change the constitution and have people loyal to them in all the key posts already," Toth said.

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