Hungary Elections 2018 – the Country That Fell Victim to the Fear of Non-Existent Refugees

Hungary Elections 2018 – the Country That Fell Victim to the Fear of Non-Existent Refugees

Adam Lorand analyses the results of the recent election in Hungary

The 2018 Hungarian elections were held last Sunday, resulting in an overwhelming victory for the incumbent right-wing Fidesz party. For those who are not familiar with the Hungarian electoral system, here is a short introduction. The Hungarian parliament has 199 seats, of which 106 are allocated based on the results of first-past-the-post, single-member constituencies. The remaining 93 are allocated according to the results of a country-wide proportional representation system.

Most experts predicted an absolute majority for Fidesz. Some even projected an outright victory for the opposition, with only a single pollster expecting a two-third majority for the incumbent party. Sunday’s result proved all but one forecast wrong. Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s party won in 91 out of the 106 individual constituencies and had almost 49% of the party-list votes, translating into 43 parliamentary seats. With their 134 seats, Fidesz exceeded by 1 the number of seats in parliament required to have a two-third majority. The biggest opposition party in parliament is the far-right-turned-centre-right Jobbik party, with 25 seats.

Why are these results so surprising? The answer can be found by looking at the campaigns leading up to the elections. That of Fidesz was focused almost solely on the issue of immigration. As one of the Schengen border countries, Hungary accepted a sizeable number of refugees between September 2014 and September 2015, but has taken in an insignificant number since. Even in that one year, very few refugees wanted to stay in the country. Most wanted to get to Western Europe (mainly to Germany and Scandinavia). This didn’t prevent Fidesz from using the state media to spread fake information about the number of refugees that the EU and the UN wanted Hungary to take in, and about the “chaos” and “extreme increase in criminal activity” that immigration had caused in Western Europe. Their campaign also involved the depiction of opposition politicians as “criminals” whose only goal was to let more refugees into the country. Not a single word was spoken about substantive matters, such as the terrible state of the public healthcare system, or how the government could assist the ever-increasing portion of the Hungarian population living in extreme poverty.

The opposition’s campaign was centred on the corruptness of the government. They pointed out that billions of forints had mysteriously disappeared from the budget. However, while cracking down on corruption was a pivotal point of their campaign, opposition politicians did not forget about other pressing matters. They tried to initiate meaningful debate with the government, for instance, on the issue of healthcare, arguably the most pressing matter of them all, but Fidesz politicians refused to engage in any sort of discussion with the opposition.

After such a campaign, analysts and opposition politicians understandably expected Fidesz to at least not succeed in winning a two-third parliamentary majority, even if they won the election (especially since polls seemed to confirm their expectations). So, what explains Fidesz’s landslide victory? Electoral data suggests that their last-minute mobilisation of voters in the rural areas was enough to prove forecasts wrong. The elections split Hungary right down the middle. Budapest and its agglomeration, the most developed region of the country, voted heavily for the opposition. On the other side of the spectrum, the poorest and least developed regions mostly voted for Fidesz. The latter regions were the most subjected to state media propaganda. Their population is predominantly poorly educated and has access to only a limited range of information sources, so their main (or, most of the time, only) sources are the state media.

So what does another four years of Orban premiership mean for the EU? He might continue with the anti-refugee rhetoric, causing more headache to Brussels. Hungxit is highly unlikely, however. The vast majority of Hungarians are in favour of EU membership. If Orban ever even mentioned the possibility of leaving the EU, it would very likely spark mass protests, leading to the end of his government.

Since the elections, however, the Prime Minister and the government-aligned media have toned down their anti-refugee discourse. If Orban viewed the topic simply as a tool for securing a third consecutive term, he might go against the EU’s decisions regarding immigration less frequently. The anti-refugee populists losing their probably most active leader would make the EU’s job integrating the refugees considerably easier. With the EU having Brexit, Trump and Russia to deal with, it would probably welcome such a change.


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