A raid, a premises search, and the arrival of a war – the third week of the campaign in five points

February 28. 2022. – 06:28 PM


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The second week of the official campaign period may have left us a bit bewildered. Several events took place that were not associated with the competing parties, but which will undoubtedly influence voters: the Ukrainian-Russian war is, of course, the most significant, but the premises search and accusations made against Csaba Horváth and the tax authority's investigation of Gábor Iványi were all embedded in an electoral context. In this installment of the five-point campaign update, we will also take a look at the latest opinion polls, the national party lists that are coming together, and the schemes of smaller and non-existent parties. Translated by Dominic Spadacene

1. How is the war affecting the election?

Last Thursday Russia attacked Ukraine and war broke out, which bears so heavily on the election campaign that the opposition even announced a demonstration that evening. Fidesz, on the other hand, is attacking the opposition's statements. But how are voters interpreting the war? Factors could include the desire for peace and safety, the scale and handling of the refugee influx, the perception of Viktor Orbán's politics with Russia, and the effect of Péter Márki-Zay's statements regarding the war.

To sum it up in a single sentence: from the point of view of domestic politics, the question of the coming days and weeks will be whether voters believe the government's preferred narrative (the government advocates peace, whereas the opposition would go to war) or whether the opposition's narrative will prevail (the government is aligned with the Russian aggressors, whereas the opposition stands with the West). Both sides are doing their best to reinforce their own narrative and undermine the other's.

2. The campaign period has now seen a raid and a premises search

During any campaign period, it is inevitable that events will take place that are not tied to a party's actions, but which are nevertheless politically charged – or at least people are inclined to evaluate the events based on their political sympathies. Here are a few examples from the past week:

Officers from Hungary's tax authority (NAV) showed up at Gábor Iványi's door: Last Monday, at least a dozen NAV officers in orange vests showed up at the headquarters of the Oltalom Charity Association on Budapest's Dankó Street. The tax authority ordered an investigation into budgetary fraud. The affair has a political element based on the fact that the head of the association is Gábor Iványi, who almost became the opposition's joint candidate for head of state (Péter Róna was chosen in the end, although some of the opposition would have gone back and nominated Iványi). On Monday, Dankó Street witnessed crowds, protests, and shouting by the opposition. As far as influencing the election, the proceedings could serve to mobilize some opposition voters.

Premises search and accusations made against opposition politicans: Csaba Horváth, Hungarian Socialist Party mayor of Zugló, was accused by the prosecutor's office of corruption related to parking issues. Meanwhile, the mayor's apartment and the local government office of Zugló were subjected to a premises search. Among the accusations is that on at least three occasions, Horváth received HUF 3 million [over 8,000 euros] in cash. If the affair plays out in the same familiar manner as the affairs of previous campaigns (e.g. Hungarian Socialist Party MP Gábor Simon's case), then we shouldn't be surprised if an arrest will be made. However, Horváth has not gone into hiding. He said that it was all a case of the coat-theft anecdote [a man's coat is stolen, but when rumors of the crime spread, all that is recalled of the incident is that the man was somehow involved. Ultimately, the victim is thought to have committed the crime.], that he had not committed any crime, and that he is being targeted because of the campaign (i.e. he will be on the opposition's joint list).

Teachers' civil discontent: Teachers began protesting a few days ago as they believe that the government's February 11th decree effectively undermines their right to strike. Many schools have joined the wave of protests, putting their names and faces out to the public. The demonstration has, of course, entered the political arena. Those on the government's side consider it an operation by the opposition and point out that only a fifth of teachers took part in the latest strike. Meanwhile, the opposition is lambasting the government's bad education policies.

3. Which opinion poll should we trust?

Three opinion polls have come out recently, and they can't be said to provide a clear picture for interested voters. Let's take a look at what the outcomes of these polls show regarding the percentages of Fidesz and the opposition:

Nézőpont: 50-43 (active voters)
IDEA: 49-44 (decided voters)
Publicus: 32-34 (all respondents)

The differences – and I'll be a bit lenient here – are due to the fact that the research institutes carry out their research in different time frames, with different methodologies, on different samples. And, as we can see, they publish data regarding different bases. What we can deduce from the research is that the two voting blocs are roughly similar in size, but Fidesz voters are more active. The proper thing to do here is to look at the trends in the individual studies: from this perspective, Fidesz is by no means on a decline as we head into the last month of the campaign – quite the opposite in fact.

4. The opposition's party-list took shape amidst quarreling

The collection of nomination slips has ended. Candidates had to submit the signatures they collected, and parties had to decide on the ordering of their national party list. This week marks the start of a new period, during which it is no longer possible to swap out candidates. In other words, if an unpleasant matter about one of the politicians surfaces (e.g. a scandalous video is leaked), legal constraints now prohibit replacing them with a new candidate.

The way in which the lists of the two big blocks took shape is quite telling. The only thing that was revealed earlier about Fidesz-KDNP's list was that János Lázár, for example, would not take up one of the expected spots: in other words, if he fails to beat Péter Márki-Zay for the constituency seat of Hódmezővásárhely, then he won't serve in parliament and will end his political career, something that he himself has stated. The opposition list, by contrast, was settled after a great deal of negotiation and conflict – which isn't surprising given that it consists of six parties.

I will spare the readers of this campaign update from news leaks, but I can tell you this: to say that there were lengthy debates even over individual expected spots on the list is no exaggeration. The final result: of the first 45 spots (the number of their expected seats according to current estimates), the Democratic Coalition has 14, Jobbik has 12, Momentum has 8, the Hungarian Socialist Party and Dialogue for Hungary together have 8, and Hungary's Green Party has 3. Among these 45 candidates will be three Roma politicians, running for Jobbik, Momentum, and Dialogue respectively.

5. Fake parties are still pulling out all the stops

As the signature collection period comes to a close, it is worth reflecting on the fact that while on paper 43 parties have collected nominations, only a few parties are known in the political public sphere. The two major political blocs, Fidesz and the opposition, not surprisingly completed the requirement in a matter of hours, but the smaller parties were nowhere near as swift. And then there are the parties that don't really exist, which are running just to profit from state funding: they are referred to as fake parties.
(We'll put a two-sentence explanation here in English about how much money Hungary's legislation allows you to collect "just like that" from the state.)

Although the criteria for running in the elections have been made more stringent, many such parties have not been deterred by the changes. György Gődény's new anti-vaccination party is almost certain to be able to put forward a list, although the fact that the Normal Life Party (the name of Gödény's party) submitted nomination slips in Budapest's 4th constituency with the details and signatures of 11 deceased individuals on them says a lot about what went on in the background. It was also discovered that their candidate in Orosháza had also tried to submit false signatures, and his registration was refused.

How can this happen? The candidates presumably did not collect the nomination slips on the street but bought and copied the data off the black market for fake parties. And it didn't work in those places.