The cooperation of Hungarian opposition parties passed the test – The Weekly 25
Due to the tragic death of an MP, Hungary’s Borsod-Abaúj-Zemplén County had to hold a by-election in one of its constituencies.
The stakes were high for several reasons. Consequently, the campaign had a national significance right from the beginning. Although Fidesz eventually won the tight race by a few per cent, the outcome is highly promising in terms of the coordinated opposition’s chances for 2022. But what exactly happened in the Borsod County by-election on 11 October?
As I said, the stakes of the by-election were high because Fidesz needs 133 seats in Parliament for the two-thirds majority, and this election was going to decide if the governing parties can keep this majority since the death of their former MP reduced the number of their seats to 132 – one fewer than what they needed to continue with the kind of governance they had been conducting in complete disregard for the opposition.
In addition, Borsod-Abaúj-Zemplén County’s District 6 has been known as a typical swing district: it comprises a medium sized town considered as a leftist stronghold as well as some right-leaning small towns and many underprivileged villages with serious social disadvantages.
Although Fidesz had had some confident victories here in the previous elections, they were largely due to the fact that Jobbik and the leftist parties cancelled each other out as they were competing for the opposition votes. No wonder Fidesz spared no effort to retain this electoral district.
There was no doubt that the opposition was going to enter this race with a joint candidate and a joint campaign, following the proven model that was applied in last year’s municipal elections and the Dunaújváros by-election in February.
Just as in Dunaújváros, the opposition parties agreed to nominate a Jobbik politician as their joint candidate since he was already well-known in the district and was a member of the county council, too.
Fidesz’ candidate was the deceased MP’s daughter who was officially working as a politically delegated diplomat at the Hungarian Embassy in Washington until the beginning and even during the campaign.
Right from the very first day of the campaign, Hungary’s authoritarian-leaning governing party employed the most diverse means to not only defeat but even eliminate the opposition. In the first round, they used administrative measures in an attempt to prevent the opposition’s candidate from entering the race on the pretext of the court’s (perhaps not quite accidental) omission. Eventually, the opposition managed to overcome this problem by the Green-Liberal Dialogue Party becoming the candidate’s official nominator despite his membership in Jobbik.
Of course, Fidesz’ act, along with some other events, raises a strong suspicion of election manipulation.
For example, several supposedly impartial state institutions and organizations declared their support for the Fidesz candidate while the mayors of the local villages got calls from the Fidesz headquarters to threaten their settlement’s inhabitants that they would lose development funds and jobs if Fidesz didn’t win. There were several cases of local mayors demonstratively making video recordings of the people attending opposition rallies. Nevertheless, all polling institutes measured equal ratings for both candidates.
Even though the joint opposition campaign could only allocate one sixth of the financial resources compared to the governing party and had to face institutional discrimination from the beginning, every opposition party put a lot of effort into the race. This attitude brought a whole new colour into Hungarian politics as we only used to coordinate municipal campaigns before while the Dunaújváros by-election was mostly conducted by Jobbik; the support of the other opposition parties was rather symbolic there.
For the first time, the opposition parties entered the race for a parliamentary seat with a joint campaign staff, a joint campaign team.
Let me note here that Budapest Mayor Gergely Karácsony provided a lot of support, in addition to the fact that his Dialogue Party “gave its name” to the opposition candidate after Fidesz had Jobbik banned from the ballot.
Let me say a few words about the opposition candidate: agricultural entrepreneur László Bíró is a typical country politician of Jobbik, with several years of experience in politics at local and county levels. Ever since the beginning of his candidacy, he was subjected to serious attacks, especially for his scandalous comments made in a debate on Facebook in the past. Bíró apologized to the other opposition parties as well as the voters several times, and his apology was accepted by the other parties.
The predictions of the polls came true: the two candidates were racing neck-to-neck on election night. Eventually Fidesz’ candidate got 50 per cent while László Bíró finished at 46 per cent.
So the opposition could not win but it is a fact that Fidesz employed all possible means, not refraining from such illegal acts as buying votes, threatening people or mobilizing supposedly independent institutions for the party’s goals.
However, they could only gain 1700 more votes and a few per cent of margin, which clearly shows that a coordinated opposition campaign will be able to enter the race as a favourite for the 2022 general elections.
For the first time, the opposition cooperation was tested live and passed it. Instead of giving in to any attempts at dividing them, they remained loyal to each other in the face of the government’s illegal acts and conducted a well-organized campaign. Although, typically of by-elections, the voter turnout was not high, we can draw the conclusion that opposition-leaning citizens support the cooperation.
As an openly rightist candidate, László Bíró gained a convincing majority in every polling station of the district’s leftist stronghold and was in a tight race with the Fidesz candidate even in the rightist small towns.
Unfortunately, on account of its vote-buying acts, Fidesz was able to win in the villages, especially the ones characterized by poverty – the opposition must find the solution for this challenge by 2022.
Although we did not win this time, we are now a force to be reckoned with: the opposition will face Viktor Orbán and his Fidesz as an equal challenger.