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Hungary’s Opposition Parties: Searching for a Way Forward

Denes Salyi 2018.05.18.

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s FIDESZ-KDNP alliance gained a sweeping two-thirds victory in Hungary’s general elections on April 8th. This humiliating defeat shocked the country’s opposition parties. In the wake of last month’s vote, it quickly became obvious, if someone hadn’t known it before, that a complete change of strategy would be necessary to make these parties stronger and, if possible, enable them to win the next election.

Jobbik emerged from the parliamentary elections as the strongest opposition party. Despite this, the party hasn’t been in much of a celebratory mood: unlike in previous years, they didn’t hold a May Day festival in the weeks after the vote due to both their bad financial situation and growing internal conflicts. The radical right-wing party should decide whether to go on moving towards the position of a moderate central people’s party or to make a U-turn toward reaffirming its original radical credo. At their congress last weekend where new party leaders were elected, Tamás Sneider, a supporter of the central-right strategy, defeated the radical László Toroczkai in a very close contest.

Jobbik Elects Moderate as Party Chief

May Day, traditionally a joyful celebration of the Left, didn’t give much pleasure to socialist, liberal and green parties this year. The Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP) arranged its smallest and shortest gathering ever in Budapest’s City Park, where speeches of importance couldn’t be heard. All in all, this was perhaps not altogether surprising, considering the fact that they produced the poorest election performance in their 24 years of existence. Their ally, the Dialogue (Párbeszéd) Party, held a celebration of their own on the banks of the Danube that attracted only modest attendance. The liberal Democratic Coalition Party (DK), led by former Prime Minister, Ferenc Gyurcsány, didn’t even organize a programme on this year’s May Day. In the elections, DK just narrowly passed the 5% voting threshold needed to guarantee the party seats in the National Assembly, and as their core supporters are in general rather old, their chances of making it into parliament in 2022 are very limited.

The green party, LMP (Politics Can Be Different), reached more votes than four years ago, but the 7% they got was far below their expectations. At their little gathering on Gellért Hill, neither of the party’s co-leaders were even present. At present, the party’s leadership seems divided over LMP’s future, and the group faces the dilemma of either becoming the leading party of the Left or of transitioning toward a more centrist role.

Tens of Thousands of Hungarians Protest Orbán Gov’t, Call for “New Opposition”

May Day this year has been the most disappointing one for leftist (and liberal) parties since the end of Communism in 1989. The options seem to be clear. Evidently, Fidesz can only be replaced by a large political block, the creation of which requires a united opposition party. Instead, we have seen a further demoralization in that field of the Hungarian political arena in the past month. Apparently, a far better political performance in the coming years is needed by the opposition to prevent the Orbán government from leading the country through 2026 or even 2030.

Up to this point, MSZP has largely operated by mimicking the tactics of fellow socialist parties in Western Europe. Pursuing the illusion of a Tony Blair-esque “Third Way”, MSZP has employed updated leftist rhetoric and ideology while at the same time implementing neo-liberal philosophies and policies in practice. In the wake of their crushing electoral defeat, this era seems to have come to a definitive end.


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