Hungary’s joint opposition, the newly-christened United for Hungary, has started to run a tighter campaign, with a new image and greater trust placed in experts and advisors, and a change from the disjointed communication efforts that have characterized the past few months, writes Index. However, challenges still remain and not all issues in the coalition have been resolved.
Messaging has been United for Hungary’s biggest challenge
The biggest issue for United for Hungary in the past few months has been coordinating its messaging, according to the news portal. Prior to the primary elections last fall, the six-party coalition communicated its decisions, announcements, and policy positions in pre-agreed joint statements and press conferences.
But after Péter Márki-Zay gained the confidence of the primary electorate to be the leader for the opposition coalition in the spring parliamentary elections, it has proved to be a challenge for both the new prime ministerial candidate and the parties supporting him to adapt to one another.
Péter Márki-Zay’s occasionally divisive public statements have raised eyebrows even amongst his allies, which appear to outsiders as cracks in the coalition.
One example is the New Year’s statement put out by Márki-Zay mentioning that Hungary’s elderly had been “decimated” by the pandemic, a statement that caused commotion not only in the pro-government media but also within United for Hungary itself.
The prime ministerial candidate also claimed that “the majority of the elderly voted for Fidesz,” but young people are more “critical of the government.” Jobbik President Péter Jakab appeared to address these comments when he stated in an interview that “Death does not choose based on party sympathy, and, it seems, neither does stupidity.”
The mayor of Hódmezővásárhely, apparently stung by the criticism, said on news channel ATV that he would apologize for his comments if it made anyone happier. In response to this comment, Péter Jakab remarked that “Even a smart person can say stupid things, but it takes someone even smarter to realize when he’s said something wrong and is able to apologize for it.”
Márki-Zay’s plans for a seventh parliamentary caucus have caused friction
The opposition has also been divided over the issue of a seventh caucus in Parliament. After winning the opposition’s primary election to be its nominee for prime minister, Péter Márki-Zay announced an interest in setting up a new center-right party and seventh parliamentary caucus.
However, the six-party opposition did not react positively to the idea of expanding the coalition. Péter Jakab and his Jobbik party have openly rejected it, and ATV reported that none of the opposition parties have given any substantial support to the initiative.
Once again, the joint prime minister-designate retreated, saying that although he would be willing to let go of his plans for a seventh caucus, he still held out hope that the parties would revisit the issue at a later time. Márki-Zay also told ATV that it wasn’t true that all of the members in the six-party United for Hungary coalition were against his desire to form a new caucus.
Index asked the opposition parties individually about the issue of forming a new caucus, and received answers from LMP, Dialogue, and Momentum, who all sent out an identical response:
We do not intend to hold consultations on this in public. As soon as a decision is made, we will of course inform the voters and the press about it.
In addition, there has still been no agreement yet on a joint party candidate list, but the parties have until the end of the month to complete it. It is not even clear whether Péter Márki-Zay will be able to put any of his preferences on a final list. An earlier agreement amongst the parties stated that the five prime ministerial candidates will be ranked on their joint list in the order of their final primary results.
Harmonizing communication efforts and unifying their image
While there are still open questions, it now seems certain that the coalition wants to communicate in a more focused and conscientious way. One of the first steps taken in this regard was a decision announced to the press that as of December 28, 2021, a central press department would be handling all requests related to the campaign.
United for Hungary has also added experts to beef up its communication efforts. In the beginning of December, ATV’s television host András Simon joined Péter Márki-Zay’s campaign, and just this month, another television reporter, Judit Péterfi, became the spokesperson for Unity for Hungary.
Péterfi introduced herself at the opposition’s most recent press conference on their proposed national referendum on January 5, and she insisted that reporters stay on topic during the event, not even allowing Péter Márki-Zay to answer an unrelated questions from a reporter.
Coordinated communication efforts are also reflected in the new design elements of the coalition, which were rolled out a few days ago. Leading opposition politicians have already changed their social media profiles to reflect the change, and we can expect to see posters and banners with this image around the country soon.
The new design uses a blue, turquoise, and white color scheme and the slogan “Hungary belongs to all of us!” In addition, the logos of all six parties as well as Péter Márki-Zay’s Everybody’s Hungary Movement appear under the phrase “Unity for Hungary.”
When Index asked on what basis the design elements were created and what the colors symbolized, the United for Hungary campaign gave a brief and concise answer:
The design elements of Unity for Hungary and their symbolism reflect electoral victory.
-the campaign stated.
Márki-Zay determined to “make any compromise necessary” for victory
In his latest “MZPercek” video posted to Facebook, Péter Márki-Zay mentioned that the opposition is just a hair’s breadth away from wrapping up all contentious issues in the coalition. But he also noted that in the past three months, there were still “debates from the primary elections going on,” and “many actors and parties often viewed each other as opponents.”
Márki-Zay feels that the next few weeks of the campaign should not be taken up by petty squabbling about places on the party list.
I am ready to make any compromise necessary to win.
The opposition leader also said that he and the parties would soon conclude a “a new kind of ‘blood deal’” that would tie up any disputed and divisive issues.
Márki-Zay does not believe that the six opposition parties in the United for Hungary coalition are trying to suppress him, but he realizes that his plans to form a seventh caucus complicate their own priorities. As he phrased it:
Of course, they have interests related to power, party funding, gaining mandates, and their party lists, and a seventh caucus seems to be competing with these interests … it is obvious that they do not want to comply with my request.
However, the mayor of Hódmezővásárhely also wrote:
If anyone thought we would be able to work together without controversy and conflict, they were wrong. If anyone had hoped that we would not be able to compromise and unite, they don’t know us well. The new majority lined up behind a unified image yesterday. We have a policy platform, we have a team, we have a common flag and we have a plan for Hungary. Which can no longer be only for the privileged few. Hungary belongs to all of us!
Index’s source in the United for Hungary campaign told the news portal said that its messaging efforts will be much more disciplined from now on, and that Péter Márki-Zay will pay more attention to what his experts and advisors have to say.