Opposition in Hungary without a chance

Fragmented, internally divided, exhausted: this is the image the Hungarian opposition is projecting, giving it little chance of offering a genuine alternative to Viktor Orbán's ruling party Fidesz. It plans to form a joint front against Orbán, but for the European elections the initiative comes too late.

The Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban holding a speech in Subotica, Serbia, May 2018. (© picture-alliance/AP)

In Hungary the European elections are being eclipsed by local elections slated for this autumn. The opposition parties are busy positioning themselves for the national contest and negotiating options for collaboration. This is their plan for countering the dominance of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán's ruling party Fidesz, which is currently polling at around 56 percent. The opposition's goal is to present just one candidate from an opposition party against the ruling party's candidate in each constituency and city in the local elections.

So far, however, little progress has been made in this direction. Due to differences of opinion the planned "preliminary election" of a joint mayoral candidate for the capital Budapest now seems unlikely to ever come about. Criticising the sluggish tempo website Azonnali wrote: "Important events in world history often took place within a few weeks, but for the universe beyond Fidesz to reach an agreement even a whole year is not enough."

Protest against "slave law" unites the opposition

In the European Parliament election campaign the ruling party, which is waging a monotonous anti-immigration campaign against what it describes as Brussels' excessive dominance, is reaping the benefits of a divided opposition. The pro-government daily Magyar Nemzet claimed that for the opposition the entire process is just about securing posts: "Due to its limited political leeway the Hungarian opposition is no longer focussed on winning but merely on surviving and making ends meet."

The large-scale protests at the start of the year against new legislation on overtime – dubbed the "Slave law" by the opposition – have now subsided. They showed that there are issues that the opposition can use to mobilise voters who are critical of the government. But due to the opposition's growing fragmentation this is seldom achieved because the parties are too preoccupied with their own affairs.

Lots of parties but little common ground

On the right of the political spectrum the extremist wing of the Jobbik party has split off from the rest of the party. The resulting new party "Our Homeland" is hovering at around two percent in the polls, the same as the small green party "Dialogue for Hungary" (Együtt-PM), which formed an alliance with the Hungarian Socialists (MSZP) some time ago. Many people in Hungary accuse the latter of bringing the country to the brink of bankruptcy at the start of the global economic crisis in autumn 2008, which is why many don't consider the Socialists to be a suitable partner for the larger green party LMP, which founded itself on an anti-elite platform in 2009.

The LMP is critical of globalisation and calls for the introduction of a pan-European financial transaction tax and an ecological revolution. It currently lies at around six percent in the polls and sees the right-wing Jobbik party, which now claims to be more moderate but roundly rejects the idea of taking in refugees and wants the same pay for the same work across Europe, as a more likely potential ally. Jobbik is neck and neck with the Socialists in the polls at around eleven percent.

A section of the MSZP left the Socialist Party a few years ago to follow Viktor Orbán's predecessor, Ferenc Gyurcsány, when he formed his new party, the "Democratic Coalition (DK). Gyurcsány is a polarising influence. He is blamed for pursuing misguided economic and social policies during his term of office and for Orbán's landslide victory in 2010, something that in many people's view makes him a persona non grata. But even so current polls give him around eight percent of the vote.

Pro-European campaign on the left

The DK is the most vigorously pro-European party in its election campaign - it wants a United States of Europe. The small party Momentum, currently at four percent, also advocates more Europe and Eurozone membership for Hungary, and celebrated Hungary's EU accession 15 years ago with a rally. It wants a system in which individual states can buy their way out of refugee quotas. Social issues play a secondary role in its election programme.

For the Socialist Party, on the other hand, social issues are the main focus. It calls for a pan-European minimum wage and unemployment benefits to stop mass emigration from Hungary. Such details barely feature in the media's coverage of the European Parliament election campaign in Hungary, however, which are focusing instead on the question of whether the opposition will succeed in joining forces against the ruling party.

Commenting on the situation the weekly paper hvg wrote: "The constant preoccupation with the assembly of a joint opposition is also negative because it directs the public's attention in the wrong direction." The latest developments in this process are constantly covered and analysed. There is little discussion about actual content. This benefits the ruling party because it makes the opposition look self-centred and confused.
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Sugárka Sielaff

Sugárka Sielaff

is the euro|topics correspondent for Hungary. She is working as a freelance journalist for "Norddeutscher Rundfunk" and "Die Zeit". After her studies of German, journalism and Finnougristics she did a traineeship at the NDR. 2012 she was awarded the "Alternativer Medienpreis".

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