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A pivotal year for Hungary – Can Orbán be defeated in the 2022 elections? 

Amidst the current pressing problems occupying the EU, such as Russian military build-up at the Russian-Ukrainian border and the threat of war in Europe, the recent tensions in Kazakhstan as well as the continuing Covid crisis, another potentially pivotal moment may encounter the EU this year. On April 3, 2022, the EU’s problem child, Hungary, will hold parliamentary elections, deciding on their next government and prime minister 1

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While usually, the Hungarian elections would not spark as much interest given that Orbán managed to win the past three consecutive parliamentary elections, this time it is different. For the first time in years, there is a chance that Orbán and his Fidesz party might be defeated: For this election, the six-party opposition alliance decided to come forward with one joint candidate, hoping to maximise their chances of ousting Orbán. The same strategy has been successful in Israel in 2021 and, if successful in Hungary, could serve as a blueprint for defeating leaders with autocratic tendencies. 

The Hungarian prime minister candidate behind whom the opposition unites is Péter Marki-Zay, a catholic-conservative, father of seven and mayor of the small town, HódmezővásárhelyMarki-Zay is seen by many as a better alternative to Orbán, being pro-EU, speaking English, French and German fluently, and holding a doctorate degree in economic history. Most importantly, he promised to fight corruption and ensure media freedom, which has been seriously curtailed by Orbán, as well as to draft a new constitution, and finally introduce the Euro as a currency. 

However, given the evidence that the previous election in Hungary has not been fair, there are concerns that this election will also not be fair and possibly even rigged. In 2019, Open Democracy already reported a “string of anomalies” in the 2018 general election, pointing to “wide-scale fraud in the April 2018 election, including vote buying, voter intimidation, tampering with postal votes, missing ballots and election software malfunctions.” Moreover, a recently adopted amendment in the residency law raises concerns over “voter tourism“: the amendment legalizes “the establishment fictitious addresses“, by changing the definition of the term “residence” so that “it no longer requires one to actually live at that address.” This, therefore, legalises the method already used in 2018, when Hungarian minorities living near the border outside of Hungary established fictitious addresses and were thus able to cast one additional ballot2. Open Democracy also reported on this illegal method used in the 2018 election, explaining how buses with Hungarian minorities from Ukraine came to Hungary to cast their vote and how hundreds of voters were falsely registered at the same address. The continuation and legalisation of this “voter tourism” will surely further benefit Orbán and his Fidesz party in this year’s election.

Considering this history of these irregularities and the unfair tactics used by the current ruling party, Fidesz, the mounting concerns over this year’s election being rigged are thus justified and should be taken seriously.

In case Orbán is, despite anomalies in the previous election such as “the gerrymandered electoral system, and the biased media environment“, toppled in the upcoming elections, the country should brace itself for turbulent times. Already in October 2021, Orbán accused the EU and the US of meddling with Hungary’s elections. He insinuated that foreign powers and George Soros are supporting left-wing actors who want to oust Orbán. In case the opposition defeats him in the upcoming election, it is safe to say that Orbán will do everything in his power to discredit the result of the election and, possibly, also overturn the democratic choice of the Hungarian people. Moreover, undoing Orbán’s legacy will be a challenge in itself because most reforms will likely require a two-thirds majority. Hence, it is uncertain whether the opposition, in case elected, will be able to implement its planned reforms. Additionally, given that Orbán placed Fidesz-sympathisers at the top of most public bodies, it will require a supermajority for the opposition to exchange these nominees. If they cannot undo the system that Orbán and his Fidesz party have set in place, it will only be a continuation of the Orbán-state run by an opposition government whose hands are tied, unable to implement any changes. 

In any case, 2022 will be a pivotal year for Hungary, no matter how the country-wide elections this April turn out: It either means the continuation of a corrupt, anti-democratic government run by right-wing populist Viktor Orbán, that will likely become even more authoritarian over the next four years. It could also mean the establishment of an opposition government that is unable to bring about change due to the lack of a two-thirds majority in parliament. Or, it could mean a return to a pro-European, pro-democratic stance and the dissolution of the kleptocratic, corrupt practices set in place by the Fidesz party in the past years. 

Sources

AlJazeera (2021): Hungary’s Orban accuses EU, US of meddling in 2022 election, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/10/23/hungarys-orban-accuses-eu-us-of-meddling-in-2022-election (Accessed, 12th January 2022)

Bayer, L. (2022): Hungary sets April 3 election, pitting Orbán against united opposition, Politico, https://www.politico.eu/article/viktor-orban-hungary-election-april-3-lgbtq/ (Accessed, 12th January 2022)

Đorđević, N. (2021): Does Hungary’s united opposition finally have a shot at toppling Viktor Orbán?, Emerging Europe, https://emerging-europe.com/news/does-hungarys-united-opposition-finally-have-a-shot-at-toppling-viktor-orban/ (Accessed, 12th January 2022)

Goat, E. & Banuta, Zs. (2019): Fresh evidence of Hungary vote-rigging raises concerns of fraud in European elections, Open Democracy, https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/breaking-fresh-evidence-hungary-vote-rigging-raises-concerns-fraud-european-elections/ (Accessed, 12th January 2022)

Hegedüs, D. (2022): [Twitter Status], January 13, available at: https://twitter.com/DanielHegedus82/status/1481555839035060227 (Accessed, 13th January 2022)

Hegedüs D. (2022): EU must be prepared for a possible rigged election in Hungary, Euronews, https://www.euronews.com/2022/01/12/eu-must-be-prepared-for-a-possible-rigged-election-in-hungary-view, (Accessed 13 January 2022)

Henley, J. (2021): Hungary: anti-Orbán alliance leads ruling party in 2022 election poll, The Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/oct/28/hungary-anti-orban-alliance-leads-ruling-party-in-2022-election-poll (Accessed, 12th January 2022)

Makszimov, V. (2021): ‘Voter tourism’: New Hungarian residency law raises risk of electorate manipulation, NGOs warn, Euractiv, https://www.euractiv.com/section/elections/news/voter-tourism-new-hungarian-residency-law-raises-risk-of-electorate-manipulation-ngos-warn/

Politico (2021): Péter Márki-Zay THE STANDARD-BEARER, https://www.politico.eu/list/politico-28-class-of-2022-ranking/peter-marki-zay/ (Accessed, 12th January 2022)

Serhan, Y. (2021): The Autocrat’s Legacy, The Atlantic, https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2021/07/viktor-orban-autocracy-hungary-election/619351/ (Accessed, 12th January 2022)


Footnotes

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