Despite record voter turnout: Devastating loss for Hungarian opposition

A high voter turnout was expected to be an advantage for the opposition – but the ruling Fidesz party, with Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, won by a landslide.

To vote or not to vote. That was the question Hungarian voters had to ask themselves on Sunday when the national elections in the Eastern European Union country took place.

Prior to the elections, experts and politicians had predicted a nail biter if the voter turnout was higher than in previous years. The theory was that people voting for an opposition party were less likely to vote at previous elections. That is why a high turnout was predicted to be advantageous for the Hungarian opposition.

Gergely Gulyás, leader of Fidesz’s parliamentary group, told the magazine Hetek in an interview that his party was unlikely to win a two-thirds majority, like in 2010 and 2014, because of the oppositions’ expected success with mobilizing voters.

Those who had hoped for a change of government may have been optimistic in the early morning of election day.

When the voting stations opened at 7 o’clock in the morning, a record high amount of Hungarians showed up. By the time they closed, a record 68.13 percent of the eligible voters had cast their vote, according to the National Election Office in Hungary.

Many Hungarians may have asked themselves – could this be the day the opposition to beats Fidesz?

Devastating loss

However, late Sunday evening it was clear that the ruling Fidesz party, with Prime Minister Viktor Orbán sitting in the lead, had secured themselves another four years of power.

Fidesz won 134 out of 199 seats in the Hungarian Parliament and thereby kept their two-thirds majority. This ‘super-majority’ allows them to make changes to the constitution without having to cooperate with any of the opposition parties. This was also the case after the elections in 2010 and 2014.

With the high voter turnout in mind, this result is very surprising, according to Dániel Mikecz, professor of Political Science at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences.

“Nobody really believed beforehand that Fidesz would be able to mobilize so many more voters this time, and that is, indeed, why this is a landslide victory for Fidesz and a huge loss for the opposition,” Mikecz says.

The significance of the opposition’s loss was also underlined the day following the elections, when several opposition party leaders chose to step back – including heads of the former right-wing Jobbik party, the Socialist party (MSZP) and the green-liberal LMP party.

Controlling rural parts

Like in the previous two elections, the explanation and foundation of Fidesz’s electoral dominance lies in their ability to mobilize voters in the rural parts of Hungary, Mikecz explains.

“Fidesz won the election by being extremely successful in mobilizing voters in the small and medium-sized villages all over Hungary. This year they have done even better in the rural areas than in previous years, which has surprised a lot of experts. Many people didn’t think it would be possible for Fidesz to mobilize more voters in rural areas, yet they managed to do so,” Mikecz says.

According to Mikecz, this was achieved by an extremely effective campaign strategy.

“The whole anti-immigration and anti-George Soros (a Hungarian philanthropist and critic of the Orbán-administration) campaign has really seemed to work and is why the elections turned out so well for Fidesz,” says Mikecz.

Opposition beaten down

Another explanation of Fidesz’s success also lies in the inabilities of the Hungarian opposition to cooperate. Opposition parties in Hungary have refused to collaborate with each other which, according to Mikecz, has punished voters.

“The parties should show more readiness to cooperate with each other if they are to stand a chance against Fidesz. Obviously, none of the parties want to see the same results in 2022 so the opposition has to rethink their whole campaigning strategy. They should campaign more with each other instead of separately, like they did this time,” Mikecz says.

He also suggests that the opposition parties should start focusing more on the rural areas, where Fidesz has traditionally been successful.

“Of course, you can’t convince every citizen in the small and medium-sized villages to vote differently, but maybe it would be a good strategy to campaign more in the rural areas. That might give them a better shot in the next elections,” Mikecz says.