Orbán and Gyurcsány unexpectedly butt heads on Facebook during the first week of the campaign period
February 21. 2022. – 01:25 PM
The parliamentary election campaign period officially kicked off on Saturday, which was immediately apparent from the fact that markets and squares were flooded with signature collectors that morning. As promised in my first campaign update, I'll be summarizing major developments of the election every week in five bullet points. For this installment, I'll be touching on the state of the nation speeches delivered by various party leaders, Péter Róna, a last-minute candidate swap, and a clash on Facebook between Orbán and Gyurcsány that made the needle jump on the election's absurdity meter. Translation by Dominic Spadacene.
1. Signatures were collected at lightning speed for both Fidesz and the opposition
Starting with the questions from the previous campaign update, we can say straight away that nothing unexpected happened at the beginning of the campaign: no scandalous videos were leaked, and there were no surprising twists. From a legal point of view, the most important development was that all the candidates from the two major camps officially entered the running, and political party workers equipped with pens and nomination slips descended upon voters with great fervor.
On Saturday morning, the candidates raced one another to be the first to declare on Facebook that they had gathered 500 signatures. By the early afternoon, both Fidesz-KDNP and the opposition announced that they had their nominees in all 106 constituencies. To be sure, this has absolutely no bearing on the outcome of the election, as it is the votes that will count – rather, we'll just note that part of the electorate is quite active and that, alongside Fidesz, the opposition was also quick to get the required signatures.
According to the latest Závecz poll, Fidesz is leading by three percentage points (this is a bigger advantage in terms of seats, but I will elaborate on this in a future campaign update). During our election broadcast, political scientist Gábor Török also said that a victory for the opposition would be a huge surprise.
The opposition, however, was already facing problems on Monday and had to change candidates: the Párbeszéd [Dialogue for Hungary] candidate for the constituency of Monor was forced to withdraw due to his indefensible comments following an incident in 2016 in which he ran over a young couple. Rebeka Szabó, deputy mayor of Zugló, will run in his place, but the constituency is considered Fidesz terrain, and Párbeszéd's future parliamentary group will hardly be affected by it. Párbeszéd is more concerned about the opposition's joint list, which is still the subject of debate among the opposition parties – even though they wanted to have it locked in a while ago: first by the end of last year, then by the end of January.
In terms of nominations, it is also worth noting that party workers from Gattyán's Megoldás Mozgalom [Solution Movement] also made an appearance in public squares. While doing research, we found that Fidesz often came up in the backgrounds of the party's candidates.
2. Orbán lashes out at Gyurcsány, Gyurcsány lashes out at Orbán and comments on Facebook
The beginning of the year is a time of speeches regarding the state of the nation: and you can be sure that everyone planned their speech dates to coincide with the start of the campaign period. In chronological order, László Toroczkai, president of Mi Hazánk [Our Homeland Movement], kicked things off in early February, followed by Ferenc Gyurcsány last Friday, and finally, Viktor Orbán and Péter Márki-Zay on Saturday.
- László Toroczkai said that if his party doesn't get into parliament, they will raise barricades. Prior to his speech, he spoke in favor of erecting a statue of Miklós Horthy.
- Ferenc Gyurcsány threw a jab at Orbán: “Their time is up – our time has come.”
- Viktor Orbán struck at Gyurcsány: he described his opponents as "Gyurcsány and Bajnai, backed up by a mushroom expert".
- Péter Márki-Zay announced a "change of government rally" for March 15th. (This is when Fidesz will be holding the Peace March.)
In every campaign update, I also try to keep you informed about where the needle currently lies on the absurdity meter. As such, this is the time to mention that Orbán and Gyurcsány clashed on Facebook this past week. That is, Gyurcsány left a comment under one of Orbán's posts that was targeting him ("Hey fella, I'm starting to think that you've taken a shine to me."), and by the time the likes were rolling in, Gyurcsány was in the lead on Friday.
3. But what sort of funds do the candidates have to work with?
Now that the posters are out, paid campaign workers are knocking on doors, and oodles of money seem to be being spent on Facebook ads for each candidate, I will occasionally dedicate a point or two in these updates to thoughts about what sort of funds the candidates are campaigning with.
Of course, a large portion of them will remain unknown to us because candidates are scrupulously careful not to have certain expenditures legally tied to them. In any case, Péter Márki-Zay announced on Sunday that he had received 92 million forints (over 250,000 euros) in donations over the last ten days, with the average donation being 8,000 forints (more than 20 euros). During this campaign period, it will be worthwhile keeping this in mind when confronted with ads, videos, and Facebook content.
4. Viktor Orbán's government loses an important court case
The prime minister prepared his supporters well in advance that it's very unlikely that he will be declaring victory on Wednesday when the European Court of Justice delivers its judgment on the so-called rule of law mechanism (which we wrote about in detail here). The significance of this for Hungary's elections is that the European Commission could initiate a rule of law procedure that could result in millions of EU funds being withheld from Hungary for breaching common EU rule of law criteria. But the procedure, or the withdrawal of the money itself, will certainly not take place before 3 April, and given the pace at which the EU acts, this could even be a subject for the next Hungarian parliamentary elections.
Commenting on the recent court ruling, the Hungarian government said that the court "made a political decision regarding the Hungarian child protection law." This was exactly how lawyer and Minister of Justice Judit Varga put it before leaving the government briefing in a hurry. In the court ruling, which had been initiated by the Hungarian and Polish governments, there was no reference to the law or the ongoing referendum – if only because the court may only examine the substance of the action brought forward. However, blaming Brussels is a tried and true mobilizing play in Fidesz's repertoire, so it is not surprising that the ruling party wants to embed the decision in this narrative, which reinforces the Fidesz identity.
5. Péter Róna replaces Gábor Iványi as the united opposition's candidate for President of the Republic
When the opposition issued a joint statement announcing who they would nominate as President of the Republic, Péter Márki-Zay had to explain what he meant by the representation of fascists and communists ("I was talking about the Fidesz-affiliated Munkáspárt [Hungarian Workers' Party] and the pro-Fidesz Mi Hazánk [Our Homeland Movement] when I spoke of fascists and communists"). This was followed by a surprise because in the days prior to that, pastor Gábor Iványi seemed to be the front-runner – so much so that five out of six parties (all but Jobbik) supported him, and Márki-Zay asked him if he would stand for election. He would have, but in the end, it was at Peter Róna's place in Oxford that the phone rang instead, and he couldn't have been prepared for it since he has no plans to return home from abroad until March.
Róna is unlikely to become President of the Republic, as Fidesz-KDNP can obviously elect Katalin Novák in the first round. However, Róna's unexpected nomination is significant for two reasons: on the one hand, it has whipped up tempers among opposition party leaders. On the other hand, some opposition voters may be disappointed that, in contrast to the October primaries, yet another symbolic issue (this time regarding who the opposition would nominate as Hungary's head of state) was again decided upon in secret negotiations and opaque party games.