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Ahead of the General Elections in Hungary (I)

Hungarians will be heading to the polling station on the 8th of April 2018, which is now in less than six weeks. They have a clear choice between keeping the status qua by voting for Viktor Orban’s Hungarian Civic Alliance Party or opting for a fresh start. An online survey (https://kozvelemenykutatok.hu) indicates that public support for the main opposition party: Movement for a Better Hungary (Jobbik)- and for the smaller opposition political parties-Politics Can Be Different (LMP), Hungarian Socialist Party  (MSZP) and Momentum Mozgalom-are singnificantly low, varying between 4 % and 11%.

Despite being in power since 2010, public support for Fidesz on the other hand is significantly higher, about 35-37%. All eyes and ears are therefore at the election campaign run by the Fidesz and the kind of narrative it puts forward. However the outcome of Sunday’s Mayoral bi-election in Hodmezovasarhel came as a surprise. It meant that when the opposition political parties cooperate, they could defeat Fidesz in the most government-friendly areas.

Opposition to migration is what dominates Fidesz’s election campaign and everything else is pretty much swept aside. A new package of law is proposed to limit the support of illegal immigration. Interior Minister Sandor Pinter announced that if Fidesz forms the government, they would ban foreign citizens supporting illegal migration from entering into Hungary. The package also includes a proposed 25% tax on foreign donations received by those deemed of supporters of illegal migration. This law package is also described as ‘Stop Soros Plan’. Friction between Orban and George Soros, 78 years old Hungarian-American financier and philanthropist, is well known to everyone following European politics. Additionally Fidesz’s opposition to migrations has been linked to Hungary’s relationship with the EU. For instance as part of the election campaign, only few days ago, Orban claimed that they have spent over €1 billion on border protection not only of Hungary, but of Europe too and asked that Brussels should reimburse Hungary half of this sum.

While one would expect the opposition political parties, in particular Jobbik, to adopt a radical rhetoric like of Fidesz, on the contrary, most modest pledges do come from them. The leader of Jobbik Gabor Vona promises (i) a strategic agreement with Hungarian small and medium-sized companies (ii) the introduction of a home creation and rental housing programme with a view to supporting young people (iii) to allow men to retire after 40 years of work and (iv) to improve health care and modernise the education system. As for Jobbik’s position on the EU, while Orban’s Fidesz refused to take a part in French President Emmanuel Macron’s European-level consultation about the EU’s future, Jobbik’s Vona promises to contribute to Macron’s consultation, if successful in the elections.

Since the opposition’s victory against Fidesz on Sunday, there is an ongoing debate about whether further cooperation can be formed between Jobbik, the Greens and the Socialists and the others at this general election. However so far there is not an agreement between parties, but intentions have been expressed. For instance the Green Party can now imagine cooperation with the other opposition parties to win the individual electoral districts that means they are ready to step back if another candidate has more chance to beat Fidesz. The joint socialist-Dialogue candidate Gergely Karacsony rejected the possibility of cooperation with Jobbik. While Jobbik has also said that they will have their own candidates in all 106 districts. Socialist leader Gyula Molnar urged an agreement on joint candidates to be reached before March 15, while the Democratic Coalition (DK) leader Ferenc Gyurcsany demanded an agreement with green opposition on coordinating their candidates in individual constituencies.

In the light of Sunday’s setback, for Fidesz has mildly changed its rhetoric. For instance only yesterday, Fidesz announced that they would no longer make reference to ‘Soros’ in their election material. Probably thinking that their language on Soros have backfired on them. However there has not been a change on their position on immigration, as Orban reinstated his stance by saying: “It’s about one thing: whether we become a country of immigration as a result of the election or not.”

As fow now we do not yet know if the opposition political parties will form a pact against Fidesz, and we do not know whether Fidesz will make further concessions on the rhetoric they use, but we know that as the day of the election gets closer, Hungarian election campaign is going to get more fierce and will be worthwhile to keep an eye on.

 

 

 

 



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