An unexpected political situation has developed in Hungary after the local elections, where the united Opposition attained considerably stronger positions than predicted. Fidesz has remained the strongest political actor, having attracted over 50% of the voters, and its capability of governing the country hasn’t been questioned. However, the party has to prepare for a much closer race with the Opposition than before. In addition, the election had a remarkable psychological impact on the political scene as well, as it was the first time that opposition parties had achieved a major victory since 2006. The belief that Fidesz is invincible has evaporated.
The capital has come under leftist-liberal leadership, the once far-right party, Jobbik, has practically no cards here. At the same time, Momentum, which has a liberal ideological background and Democratic Coalition, a mixture of leftist slogans and neo-liberal philosophy, have definitely become stronger. Gergely Karácsony, the new mayor, won by 51%, and in 14 districts out of the 23, opposition parties form majorities, thus also dominating the City Assembly.
By 2002, Hungarian politics had produced two big contesting blocks, a leftist-liberal and a national conservative group, which had roughly the same influence on society. Provincial cities were mostly led by the Right, the capital by the Left. They, Fidesz and the Socialists (MSZP), alternated in power. In 2006, MSZP won again. But as a result of bad governance by the Gyurcsány cabinet, the party suffered a historic defeat, chosen by only 19% of the voters as opposed to 43% in 2006. Fidesz enjoyed a sweeping victory with 53% of the votes, a 10% rise compared to 2006, while SZDSZ, the liberal coalition partner of MSZP, disappeared from the scene. The vacuum was filled with two anti-elitist parties, (then) far-right Jobbik and green LMP. Neither of them wanted to form an alliance with the Left. This situation also played a role in Fidesz’ three consecutive two-third triumphs in general elections and the fact that they were over-represented in self-governments occupying traditionally leftist places like Salgótarján, Pécs, Eger, and Miskolc as well.
Sociologically, it can be said, no major shift has happened now in politics. After the “intermezzo” with attempts by alternative parties to redraw the political map, things have returned to “normal”: two big blocks, a conservative-rightist and a leftist-liberal one, facing each other supported by their distinguishable groups of voters. It seems to be true, even if we know that there are overlaps here and there among voters and that in the post-modern world the validity of political categories is changing.
Fidesz has a good chance to win the next general election as it has been able to convince enough voters that they govern professionally. Especially in the crucial field of handling the economy, where more than half of the public and a growing number of economists inland and abroad think that their performance deserves a good mark. The rate of an economically active population, the segment in which Hungary was one of the worst in Europe before 2010, has drastically increased, and the overall employment figures – which always have a great effect on elections – are doubtlessly positive. Still, in spite of improving job satisfaction and rising average living standards, many citizens are critical about corruption related to the state and the arrogance of Fidesz local council officials or businessmen associated with them. All these frustrations may be collected by the Opposition, which probably has woken up from its lame-duck slumber, trying to mobilize voters who have been passive so far. In order to win the elections next time, the governing party has to respond to criticism coming from the citizens, suggesting a more moderate and humble image of itself. One thing is certain, we are facing an exciting period ahead in politics.
As far as Budapest is concerned, ‘cohabitation’ is not unknown here. Between 1998 and 2002, the city had a leftist-liberal mayor, while Viktor Orbán was the Prime Minister delegated by Fidesz. It was an unlucky period accompanied by a lot of debates and conflicts between the two sides. The imminent loser was the capital but Fidesz also paid the price by losing votes in Budapest in 2002.
It is in the interest of the whole country that Viktor Orbán and Gergely Karácsony could come to terms as much as possible and that the city shouldn’t be deprived of the necessary financial sources that the government can secure. To get that, Karácsony must understand that his new position is not just a means or springboard to acquire Premiership, and Orbán must see it clearly that preserving the post doesn’t require a war against the new administration. There are certain signs that the government is ready to be more pragmatic. Orbán is probably confident enough, and hopefully wise enough, to allow himself to be generous, knowing that this attitude will pay off.
In the featured photo: new Budapest mayor Gergely Karácsony arriving at his office. Photo by Tamás Kovács/MTI