The outbreak of war has ushered in a new campaign – the fourth week of the campaign in five points
March 07. 2022. – 08:53 AM
The Russian-Ukrainian war is radically rewriting everything on a global scale, and the election campaign in Hungary is no exception. The events of the war not only overshadow the campaign but also force all of its participants to rethink their strategies. For this reason, the war has clearly been the main issue for the past several days. The fact that MSZP politicians were implicated in corruption or that several candidates made it onto the ballot under suspicious circumstances barely incited a reaction among voters. Translated by Dominic Spadacene
1. The campaigns have been rewritten by the war
The war next door has been going on for more than a week now, with little end in sight. Politicians, the media, and even voters themselves have been absorbed by the perceived threat and insecurity of war as well as its many economic effects. In such circumstances, all the parties are forced to put aside their well (or ill-) conceived campaign plans and instead analyze and discuss the war. Just imagine how discordant and ineffective it would be if Fidesz were to pay no heed to the war and simply criticize Gyurcsány, while the opposition did the same to Gábor Kaleta (former Hungarian Ambassador to Peru charged with child pornography) and József Szájer (former Hungarian MEP who resigned after a gay orgy scandal).
The campaign has taken on a new appearance and focused mainly on the war this past week: Fidesz politicians have been more cautious in their statements, and public forums have become less frequent, albeit still taking place from time to time. We went to Kazincbarcika to attend a lengthy forum held by Zsolt Semjén, where the Deputy Prime Minister and KDNP President spoke about the effects of the war. He explained why and how a distinction can and should be made between Islamist migrants and refugees from Ukraine. Meanwhile, the opposition held two demonstrations in a single week. In the first, Péter Márki-Zay along with thousands of demonstrators prayed for peace in front of the Russian embassy. The second one, on Tuesday, was more combative and campaign-like: protesters along with the opposition's deputy prime minister berated Putin and Orban and condemned the Hungarian government's friendly relations with Russia.
In the meantime, the narrative battle between Fidesz and the opposition predicted in last week's campaign update is well underway. Fidesz is trying to portray itself as pro-peace (recall the Peace March to be held soon) while painting the opposition as pro-war (although what Márki-Zay talked about was cooperation with NATO). The opposition, on the other hand, is trying to project the battle between West and East onto Hungary's elections. Meanwhile, the Hungarian government has unexpectedly started supporting Ukraine's accession to the EU. Who is having a better go of it? Based on the first few days, Fidesz has the upper hand: at least according to a recent survey by Medián the party managed to pick up steam after the outbreak of the war.
2. The economic impact of the war has yet to become a campaign issue
Be it in the short term or over a longer period of time, every war not only restructures geopolitical, diplomatic, or social relations but also has a major impact on economies. Over the past several days, the forint has plummeted to a historic low – as have other currencies in the region: on Wednesday, one euro was equivalent to 383 forints. The Budapest Stock Exchange plunged sharply this week, and a bank collapsed in the process: Péter Szijjártó called the closure of the Hungarian subsidiary of Russia's Sberbank the first victim of Brussels' policy of sanctions.
I mention all this only because, surprisingly, this negative economic news has not been put into a political context. The opposition has yet to play off of voters' economic fears. What will happen, for example, if the price freezes are lifted? All we have learned this week is that we would now have to pay an average of 553 forints for gasoline, currently fixed at 480 forints, and 574 forints for diesel. The extent to which Fidesz has been dealing with price increases is by repeating one line: without Russian gas, the cuts to utility costs would hardly be sustainable.
3. By the way, did you hear that some MSZP politicians are suspected of corruption?
I would not be surprised if many people would reply 'no' to this question. Preoccupied with news of the war, the general public hardly noticed that on the outskirts of Budapest's Zugló district an investigation is underway in which the names of MSZP [the Hungarian Socialist Party] politicians have come to light. First, a premises search was carried out at the apartment of MSZP mayor Csaba Horváth, following which accusations were made against the politician. Then, the prosecutor's office proposed to suspend the parliamentary immunity of Zugló's MSZP MP Csaba Tóth. Let's recall the impact in 2014 when the secret bank account of MSZP's Gábor Simon was exposed. Compared to this event, these allegations have stirred up little attention.
Further, Hungary's political sphere bore witness to a ridiculous series of events when MSZP MP Zsolt Molnár went on ATV and said that he had not taken money from anyone – then, a few days later, the newspaper Magyar Nemzet revealed exactly what Molnár had preemptively defended himself against. All we know about these affairs is that they are linked to an investigation into fraudulent invoicing, during which one of the suspects disclosed the names of MSZP members, including Ferenc Baja (who served as MP from 1994 to 2014). What is worth noting about these cases is that, compared to previous campaigns, they roused very little reaction from voters and practically ran their course in the news circuit in a single day.
4. Both Gődény's and Gattyán's parties will be on the ballot
In Hungary's last two parliamentary elections, a considerable portion of the general public greatly overlooked the fact that the ballots included parties that had never been heard of before nor since. To prevent fake parties from crowding the ballot, the rules have been tightened up. Now, instead of dozens of parties, only six parties will be listed on the ballot: these include György Gődény's Normal Life Party and György Gattyán's Solution Movement.
I'm mentioning them specifically because, along with Fidesz and the joint opposition, the other two parties (Hungarian Two-Tailed Dog Party and Our Homeland Movement) have a history in Hungary's political sphere. Gődény's party, on the other hand, collected the necessary number of signatures under suspicious circumstances: some of the party's candidates submitted the names of deceased individuals. Gattyán's party was accused by the opposition of illegally copying signatures. But legally speaking, this is how things stand: these parties and their candidates will also be on the ballot – the registration of the party lists is considered final.
It is also worth taking a look at the list of Gődény's party. You might vaguely recognize the name Mária Seres, a candidate who was previously accused of having a hand in a fake party.
5. On another note, a referendum campaign is also underway
The government-initiated referendum regarding sex change will also be held on April 3rd, which is the only reason why it has a chance of being valid. There is little campaigning on this issue. One might notice some government posters about protecting children, but with a war going on, there is very little talk of this referendum. This week, however, the government released an advertisement in which a little girl tells her mother that her class's math test was canceled because a lecturer had come. He had told the girl that she too could be a boy. Based on the mother's reaction, it's apparent that she will be voting no in the referendum.
So far, the opposition's strategy has been not to address the referendum. But this past week, some NGOs have launched a campaign seeking to invalidate the referendum. As they wrote, they believe that not only should we take part in the parliamentary elections but in the referendum as well, and further, "the clearest and surest way to show that we do not want anything to do with the government's exclusionary, spurious questions is to cast invalid votes [marking both 'yes' and 'no'] on all four of them".