“2021 wasn’t a quiet year by any means for Hungarian domestic politics,” writes Azonnali, which highlights its choices for the nine biggest political stories of the year.
In this third of a three-part series, we’ll highlight the final three of Azonnali’s picks for the top nine stories of the year in Hungarian politics.
Hungary’s opposition holds primary elections for joint challengers to Fidesz
Following Fidesz’s electoral victory in 2010 with a two-thirds majority then winning the next two elections (in 2014 and 2018) at similar proportions, Hungary’s opposition finally realized that it could only break the so-called “central power” of the ruling party with a united front and joint candidates.
This is because the new election law adopted by the ruling party in 2011 made it harder to form party alliances by getting rid of two-round elections in favor of a single round. In the previous two-round system, a candidate in one party could step down in favor of another candidate from an allied party in the second round, and thus maximum their overall chances of winning Parliamentary mandates.
The opposition first formed a united front for the municipal elections in 2019. Opposition candidates were able to defeat Fidesz-KDNP candidates in many places where there was a one-to-one matchup, including for the mayor of Budapest, which led to a similar decision to run joint candidates for the 2022 Parliamentary elections.
After a lot of preparatory work, the opposition finally managed to hold Hungary’s first real primary election this past fall with the participation of six opposition parties, generating much higher turnout than expected. In the two rounds held in September and October, voters chose the united opposition’s candidate for prime minister in addition to 106 individual candidates to face the Fidesz-KDNP candidate next year.
Most electoral districts saw a genuine battle between the candidates, as only 11 districts saw an unopposed candidate running for the oppostion’s nomination.
The Democratic Coalition (DK) won most electoral districts: 32 candidates from Ferenc Gyurcsány’s party will be on the ballot in 2022, followed by Jobbik with 29 candidates, then MSZP (18), Momentum (15), Dialogue (6), LMP (4), and the Everybody’s Hungary Movement with 2 candidates.
The two-round battle for the prime ministerial nomination saw two of the five candidates drop out after the first round: Jobbik’s Péter Jakab and András Fekete-Győr of Momentum didn’t make the cut, while DK’s Klára Dobrev, Gergely Karácsony of Dialogue, and Péter Márki-Zay of the Everybody’s Hungary Movement all got the nod to move on to the second round.
But in an unexpected move, Karácsony abruptly dropped out and endorsed Márki-Zay, who went on to defeat Dobrev in the second round and become the united opposition’s candidate for prime minister in the spring 2022 elections.
Pál Völner gets entangled in a corruption scandal
On December 13, the Prosecutor’s General’s Office surprised everyone by issuing a public statement requesting to waive the immunity of Pál Völner, State Secretary at the Ministry of Justice and Member of Parliament.
It was later revealed that Völner was accused of regularly receiving payments of 2-5 million Ft. (US $6,180-$15,450) to do the bidding of the president of the Hungarian Chamber of Judicial Officers.
Völner almost immediately resigned as state secretary after that and Parliament suspended his immunity the following week, allowing criminal proceedings to begin.
The opposition has also called on Justice Minister Judit Varga to resign over the matter, noting that she put her trusted deputy Völner in charge of authorizing the Pegasus spyware against civilians.
Völner thus becomes the fourth Fidesz Member of Parliament to be prosecuted since 2010, as Roland Mengyi was previously convicted of corruption, while György Simonka and István Boldog have also faced corruption charges in recent years.
Katalin Novák chosen as Fidesz’s candidate for head of state
Hungary’s Fundamental Law states that the President of Hungary has to be elected directly by Parliament for a five-year term, for a maximum of two terms.
Current President János Áder took office on May 10, 2012, meaning his term will expire on May 10, 2022. Áder’s successor will have to be decided before the Parliamentary elections in April 2022.
It is a near certainty that this person will be Katalin Novák, Minister without Portfolio for Family Affairs until the end of 2021, who Prime Minister Viktor Orbán unexpectedly announced at the end of December as the selected candidate for the ruling Fidesz-KDNP coalition.
The nomination of Novák was a surprise, as most observers believed that it would most likely be either former Minister of Justice László Trócsányi, now a Member of the European Parliament, or current House Speaker László Kövér, who also served as head of state following the resignation of Pál Schmitt.
Novák, 44, will be Hungary’s first woman head of state. If elected for two terms, she will still only be 54 when her term expires, and so could take over as party chair of Fidesz if Orbán decides to retire in the meantime.
Other aspects of Novák’s character undoubtedly endear her to the Prime Minister: she is a loyal member of Fidesz, having recently completed a term as the party’s vice-president, and so is expected to faithfully represent the party’s interests whether the opposition wins the election or whether Fidesz is re-elected.