The new year will certainly be a thrilling one for those interested in the Hungarian political scene, with the marquee event to be the Parliamentary elections expected in April.
And even before that, the National Assembly will have to elect a new head of state. The ruling Fidesz-KDNP coalition has already nominated Katalin Novák for the position, but the opposition has yet to choose someone they would like to see as President of Hungary.
Index spoke to two experts, András Pulai, strategic director of Publicus Institute, and Ágoston Sámuel Mráz, director of Nézőpont Institute, for their views primarily on the election and what each side needs to do to win.
András Pulai thinks that Fidesz learned from its defeat in municipal elections in 2019 and the Zsolt Borkai scandal in the same year that it will need to run an even more negative campaign than before. The fact that the opposition appears to have a chance of winning the election gives them extra motivation for doing so.
Pulai also adds this about the ruling party:
For many in Fidesz, [losing the election] would not only mean a political defeat but also the end of their careers, and possibly the end of their freedom if certain issues come to light. This is why they view the election as a life-and-death struggle.
It will also be critical to what extent the opposition is able to mobilize its voters in the next few months, and if it can perform as well as it did during the primary elections, the analyst said. Since those who want a new government in place are possibly in the majority, mobilizing those voters to come out and actually cast a vote is of key importance.
Pulai believes that a general mood for a change the government is “weakening, but still clearly there.” Fidesz will have to work, he says, to tamp down this desire in the populace before the elections.
Along with negative campaigning, the governing parties will need to communicate their results, while the opposition’s task is to communicate what it will deliver to the electorate. András Pulai also thinks a key question is whether opposition leader Péter Márki-Zay will be able to build the character of a prime minister by April.
Ágoston Sámuel Mráz agreed a negative campaign is taken for granted in today’s world, which means, above all, more attempts at generating scandals. And he appears to think that the opposition needs to get tougher on its rivals to have a chance:
But in order for the campaign to get really nasty, the opposition will have to go there too. If they are only able to display the intensity that we saw from them in the last two months, it’s unlikely in retrospect that we’ll remember the more than 100 days ahead of us, as is typically the case.
If the opposition’s prime ministerial candidate proves to be weak, or weakened, Mráz would not be surprised if the focus of the campaign in terms of election outcomes shifts to key electoral districts.
However, this does not mean that the right can be certain of victory. Overconfidence, viewing polls as the final result, and neglecting hard groundwork in the constituencies are particularly dangerous for governing parties.
-cautioned Ágoston Sámuel Mráz.
Among the major factors that will determine the election, Mráz focused on the following:
- Personalities can play a major role both on a national level and in individual districts.
- Belief in a better future is more important than current satisfaction with the government. People will need to trust that the government is investing in the future, building the country, and starting families, and do not have a desire to change both the government and the way things are going.
- The pandemic may play a special role. A possible fifth wave may even make the choice technically challenging, and not only in the field of communication.
In addition, the Nézőpont director discussed the impact that developments in the international sphere may have on the election. Criticism of the government from Brussels, “in whatever form, helps rather than harms the government despite its intentions.” In this regard, he stated that the role played by withholding EU funds for ideological reasons or rule of law violtions should not be overestimated.
A possible escalation of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, or a new wave of migration would also have an impact on the Hungarian elections, “in a way that is more favorable to the government,” he claimed.