Viktor Orbán and Péter Márki-Zay found themselves in unwelcoming territories – the seventh week of the campaign in five points

March 28. 2022. – 08:11 AM



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While there are only a few days to go until the elections, the final campaign sprint is barely even perceptible: news of the war and economic fallout continues to drown out everything else. Meanwhile, Viktor Orbán concentrated on affairs related to the EU and NATO and traveled to Brussels, whereas Péter Márki-Zay took his campaign to Transylvania. Tibor Szanyi's party cursed out a Democratic Coalition MP. Here's the penultimate campaign week in five points. Translated by Dominic Spadacene

Previous five-point campaign updates:

  • Will there be any debates, surprises, or scandalous videos?
  • Orbán and Gyurcsány unexpectedly butt heads on Facebook during the first week of the campaign period
  • A raid, a premises search, and the arrival of a war
  • The outbreak of war has ushered in a new campaign
  • The forint sinks to 400 per euro and motorists panic-buy fuel: last week was a campaign manager's nightmare
  • Well, look who made it onto public TV: Péter Márki-Zay

1. War, more war, and money

It's been one month since Russia first attacked Ukraine, and as I have already alluded to in previous analyses, the war has completely rewritten the campaign's agenda and dynamics. This week was no exception as it was also dominated by news of the war along with the accompanying reactions and commentaries. For this reason, voter response was mild when the mysterious, pro-government entity known as "Anonymous" resurfaced recently to disclose suspected cases of corruption in Budapest's left-leaning 18th and 19th districts.

Instead, the news was more focused on war and money. Viktor Orbán had to turn his attention to affairs regarding the EU and NATO, which he summed up in the following manner: "Campaign or no campaign, we will have to stand our ground in Brussels the next two days." The campaign teams back in Hungary, on the other hand, were busy figuring out how to interpret the developments related to the EU and NATO, and, as has so often been the case, two different narratives – two different realities – emerged. For example, following the NATO summit, the ruling party celebrated by saying "Hungary will not send any soldiers or weapons to Ukraine – neither will the transportation of weapons be allowed through our territory." Meanwhile, the main decision was that more NATO forces would be arriving in Hungary – more specifically: American, Turkish, Croatian, Montenegrin and Italian troops.

Another narrative battle that is currently underway regards Viktor Orbán's letter last week, in which he asked the European Commission for a great deal of money – in other words, the economic effects of the war made Hungary's prime minister finally realize the need for Brussels' repayable funds. The administration wants to make it look as if it were Orbán's letter to bring the money in from Brussels, whereas the letter addressed to Ursula von der Leyen is, in fact, a bit of a loss of face for the Hungarian prime minister, who has been at odds with Brussels for years.

In terms of the election, it is worth looking at how this affects voters. Since such matters are unlikely to affect the decided voters in both camps (that is, campaign teams are spinning narratives so as to reinforce the convictions of their base), the real question is how the undecided voters will interpret it: does such news ever even reach this demographic?

2. The latest polls show Fidesz's lead

Several opinion polls on party preferences came out this past week. But before we take a look at them, everyone should consider taking a test on their own preferences: a website called Vokskabin [lit. voting booth] recently launched and offers a way for anyone to check which party aligns closest with their views.

Now let's take a look at the survey results:

  • According to the Republikon Institute, Fidesz and United for Hungary have 49% and 46% support among party voters, respectively.
  • The Nézőpont Institute reported on active voters: it was determined that 49% of them would vote for Fidesz and 41% would vote for the opposition's joint list.
  • The IDEA Institute measured a 50-43 Fidesz advantage among decided voters. Their research indicated that the governing party's voters were much more resolved than the opposition's. IDEA also reported that the opposition is popular among young people. "If it were up to first-time voters, the opposition would get two-thirds of the vote," its researchers concluded.

The polls clearly demonstrate that Fidesz is ahead when it comes to mobilization and stimulating voter activity, which will obviously be a key issue this upcoming Sunday. Moreover, when interpreting the polls, we should keep in mind that Hungary has a mixed electoral system, with seats being allocated not only on the basis of party lists but also on the basis of individual constituencies. The distribution of voters varies from constituency to constituency, and a given candidate may do better or worse compared to a party's national level of support – it all depends on the candidate's character and, of course, how local campaigns play out. Such factors are not accounted for in these national polls.

3. Viktor Orbán is not touring the country

As we approach the end of the campaign period, it is worth looking back on the extent to which Fidesz has changed its public forum practices compared to previous years. On the one hand, it has become typical for Fidesz to hold public forums and campaign events that are not publicly announced in advance; on the other hand, Viktor Orbán hasn't really undertaken a countrywide campaign tour this time around. The Prime Minister traveled to Brussels this past week, and on the Monday prior to that he was consulting with the heads of parliamentary groups behind closed doors.

Over the past several weeks, he has taken part in a pig slaughter near Szeged, enjoyed a lángos with Tamás Menczer in the candidate's constituency, met with party workers in Budapest's 8th district, and just recently, flown in a helicopter to Debrecen to inspect the border (this last event may be in response to a rumor that the opposition is doing surprisingly well in Debrecen's 1st constituency). In any case, so far there has been no sign of the intensive campaigning we are used to seeing in previous campaigns.

4. Péter Márki-Zay visited Transylvania

Unlike Orbán, Péter Márki-Zay has been constantly touring around the country and putting out a lot of statements (and following up with even more statements, explaining his previous ones). Consider, for example, last week's sentence that needed clarification: "As prime minister, I would do the same as Viktor Orbán, only I wouldn't lie about it." He later added, "Viktor Orbán is not handling the war well at all, and I resent the idea that I would do the same as him." He said his words had been misinterpreted when it had been claimed that he had praised Viktor Orban's anti-war measures. He said he only agreed with the government's decisions regarding sanctions and NATO membership.

Moreover, Márki-Zay has not only campaigned around the country but also visited Transylvania, even holding a forum in Cluj-Napoca. As reported in detail by Transtelex, he was not welcomed by the current leaders of the RMDSZ (The Democratic Alliance of Hungarians in Romania). While only Facebook commenters had promised Márki-Zay hostility prior to his visit, no major incidents took place during his stay. At one point in Târgu Mureș, two elderly women began loudly laying into the prime ministerial candidate. Márki-Zay approached them and tried to initiate a polite dialogue, but it was to no avail, reported Transtelex.

5. One takeaway: it's always possible to sink lower

To wrap up, here's a little piece of colorful campaign news. "It's such a cliché to say that it's always possible to sink to a new low, and yet how true it is," exclaimed my colleague Attila Rovó when he saw the unrestrained title of the latest press release of Tibor Szanyi's party, Iszomm [The Yes Solidarity for Hungary Movement]: "Hey Lajos Oláh! Go fuck yourself!"

The incident that led to this was that the opposition filed a complaint in the constituency of DK MP Lajos Oláh (Budapest's 6th and 7th districts) as it had detected particularly suspicious overlaps between the nomination slips of Fidesz and smaller parties. According to Oláh's team – and this is where Tibor Szanyi's party comes in – the same deceased individual's details and signature appear on the nomination slips of the Fidesz and Iszomm candidates. This is the reason for the uncustomary tone of Iszomm's statement. The party defends itself by saying that it did not even manage to get a candidate in that constituency (because it failed to collect enough signatures). As to whether a crime had actually been committed (police are currently investigating the nomination slips of the candidates of Solution Movement and Gődény's party), we will only learn the answer months or years from now, following the investigation and a potential court case. Until then, we will just have to content ourselves with the press release of Tibor Szanyi's party.

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