Government Watch / National Security / Politics

What Orban’s Victory Means in Hungary

AMAC Exclusive – By Daniel Roman

Orban

Viktor Orban is, to say the least, a divisive figure. To some, he is a defender of traditional Western values, offering a different path both from the chaotic, cosmopolitan “wokeness” of Western Europe and North America, and from the authoritarian, anti-Western model being pushed by China, Iran, Venezuela, and Nicaragua, among others. Few men are saints, and fewer still manage sainthood in the down and dirty field of politics. Orban is no exception. But while he is not a saint, he is no dictator, and more than that, the elections last weekend made clear he is the overwhelming choice of the Hungarian people. That is something self-proclaimed “defenders of democracy” will need to learn to live with.

Contrary to expectations that Orban’s Fidesz Party would lose seats or even power, Fidesz won a landslide victory on April 3rd, winning nearly 54% of the vote to 35% for the United Opposition alliance. This resulted in Fidesz securing 135 out of 199 seats, two more than the 133 the party had won in 2018. The anti-Orban voices in the international and domestic media who hyped up the chances for a victory for the opposition led by Péter Márki-Zay (who lost his own constituency by a margin of 50-39%) were quick to ascribe the result to gerrymandering, a hostile media environment, and vague suggestions of fraud. For them, it was proof positive not that Viktor Orban was the democratic choice of the Hungarian people, but rather that Hungary was no longer a democracy.

It is worth unpacking both claims, as they fail to survive even the most basic examination of the facts. Let’s first engage with the charge of “gerrymandering,” which alleges that Hungary’s electoral districts are drawn to make it difficult or impossible for the opposition to win. Yet while the New York Times quoted a Swedish nonprofit saying “when it comes to election fairness, Hungary now more closely resembles the Soviet era than the free elections that followed the fall of Communism,” they provide no evidence of gerrymandering other than to complain that only half of the seats are awarded proportionally, not all of them. No evidence for the gerrymandering claim is provided, and as can be clearly seen, there really wasn’t much on display in 2022.

Hungarians have two votes, one for a candidate in their local district, much like a U.S. House election, and the other for a national party. Fidesz won 47/93 of the national seats, but 88/106 of the single-member seats. At first, this might seem proof positive of gerrymandering, but it was actually the opposite. A gerrymander would be expected to pack supporters of the disfavored party into a small number of seats while allowing the government to win others narrowly. This did not occur anywhere in Hungary. Outside of Budapest, Fidesz won more or less every seat.

Take, for example, the region of Szabolcs-SzatmaR-Bereg Megyei, on the Ukraine border. It has six seats, which Fidesz won by margins of 4%, 28%, 41%, 41%, 42%, and 45%. If Hungary was gerrymandered, it would have been gerrymandered for the opposition to win the seat that they lost by 4%. The evidence points to overwhelming support for Fidesz.

If anything, the maps cost Fidesz seats in Budapest, where the opposition won the popular vote by only around 9% but won 16 of 18 seats, six of them by 4% or less. Had the California Redistricting Commission drawn Hungary’s seats, it is likely the opposition would have done worse than they actually did.

Quite simply, Viktor Orban won because he got more votes, and the problem the opposition had in terms of winning seats was that Orban won so many more votes than under almost any electoral system, a party which wins an election by a margin of 54%-35% is going to win a large majority. Yet even here, the result was a surprise, but far from a shock. Fidesz’s 53.7% was the highest percentage the party has ever won, but not out of line either with polling or with past results. In 2010, in elections presided over by the current opposition, Fidesz won 52.71%. The 2,706,292 votes Fidesz won that year compare closely with the 2,811,321 it won in 2022. With the exception of 2014, when Fidesz’s support fell to 44.11% and arguably Orban was “saved” by a divided opposition, Fidesz has either won a majority or a near majority of the vote. A United Opposition might have been a necessary condition for defeating Viktor Orban, but no one who paid the least bit of attention to Hungarian elections, polling, or politics could ever believe it would be a sufficient condition on its own. To win, they would have needed a message about how the opposition would do better, not just about Orban being bad, as a majority of Hungarians had voted for him in the past.

It was here when it came to a message, where the very breadth of the opposition alliance seems to have cost them far more than any gerrymandering. While polls generally showed support for Fidesz between 49% and 53%, with the results within, but on the higher end of that range, the place where the polls erred was in terms of support for the United Opposition. At the end of the day, the United Opposition did not prove so united. While the constituent parties had won 46% of the vote in 2018, they managed only 35% in 2022, with 11% voting for other parties.

This fragmentation, more than anything else, explains the lopsided result in terms of seats. At its core was the decision, justifiable perhaps, to form an alliance stretching from the Greens and Socialists on the left to the neo-Fascist Jobbik on the right, whose deputy leader made a Hitler salute on video and which a few years ago called for the registration of all Jews in Hungary. It was almost impossible for such a broad coalition to form a coherent positive message, so they did not try. Their sole message was that they were not Orban. Toward this end they picked a prickly, self-described Catholic conservative, Dr. Peter Marki-Zay to lead them.

The premise of this strategy, however, was that a majority of Hungarian voters wanted rid of Orban personally. If that was the case, then all it would take to defeat Orban would be to unite the opposition. It would not be necessary to advocate for an alternative or even tell voters why they should prefer the opposition over Orban. If voters wanted rid of Orban personally, all they needed was the option. The result was that as Marki-Zay actively tried to stress how much he agreed with Orban on most issues such as nationalism, religion, and social values, the election ended up focusing on the two places where they disagreed. The opposition said Orban was driving Hungary out of the EU, and in turn, embraced EU flags. This meant in effect that the opposition became perceived as the Pro-EU side in a dispute between Orban and the EU, and as they were running on little else, it looked like the opposition was primarily campaigning on replacing Orban, who might feud with Brussels a bit too much for some people’s liking, with a government which would do whatever Brussels wanted to avoid conflict.

The same dynamic occurred with Ukraine. One of the greatest criticisms leveled at Viktor Orban was that he was close to Russian President Vladimir Putin, as Russia supplies much of Hungary’s energy needs. While Orban has backed existing EU sanctions and allowed Ukrainian refugees to enter the country, he has refused to back a ban on Russian energy or to allow lethal aid to flow through Hungary. By attacking this position, the opposition-aligned itself with foreign leaders who seemed angry with Orban for putting Hungary’s interests above theirs. In the two weeks before the elections, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky engaged in a war of words with Orban to such a degree that during his victory speech, Orban cited Zelensky as one of his opponents. Yet by aligning themselves with Zelensky, the opposition seemed to be acting again as tools of foreign interests. This impression was reinforced when they held a joint rally in Budapest with Donald Tusk, the leader of Poland’s opposition (and former president of the European Council), and they cheered on the cancellation of a summit with Orban by the leaders of Poland, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia. They seemed to be unaware of the danger of appearing to take advantage of an effort by neighboring countries to dictate to Hungarian voters what they should do.

Orban’s victory is a vindication of his tenure. He has delivered solid economic growth, and if he is prickly with Brussels and Washington, and occasionally chummier with Putin than some centrist voters might prefer, he clearly pursues Hungary’s interests aggressively. But it is also a signal that purely negative campaigns do not work.

Democrats in the U.S. should take note. Having abandoned trying to pass legislation, and unwilling even to acknowledge, much less defend woke policies, Democrats have fallen back almost entirely to warning about all the “bad things” Republicans might do. But without explaining why anyone should vote for them, they are repeating the same mistake of the Hungarian opposition: assuming that somewhere, there is a silent majority in their favor, and they just have to remind them that there is an election and who their opponent is in order to win. That will not be enough. And when Democrats lose in November they will blame gerrymandering, the media, and likely Putin. But they will have only themselves to blame.

Daniel Roman is the pen name of a frequent commentator and lecturer on foreign policy and political affairs, both nationally and internationally. He holds a Ph.D. in International Relations from the London School of Economics.    


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pidl
4 months ago

And what do the Swedes have to do with an Hungarian election? Friggin’ MSM spouting misinformation!

pidl
4 months ago

It seems manipulation of the American people by the liberal press continues to happen every day. And we all know they are in cahoots with the left. CIA mind control come to my mind when I see these kind of reports by MSM.

Steve H
4 months ago

Orban well understands the fight for survival. Hungary being trampled on for hundrrds of years in history. Attempting to keep a sovereign state, national identity, keep increasing the population, all within the parameters of positive fiscal responsibility. To continue to better the lives of the youth through better education, christian core values, family continuance and trying to balance the tightrope while being bullied by the EU parliament – no easy task!!
The people chose, and chose vehemently to not go backward but forward. I applaud the writer for first understanding “the will of ten million people” to stay “FREE” and second to see that Hungary did NOT cave in from the pressure of others. The leadership of the Visegrad 4 countries (Hungary, Czech, Poland and Slovakia) should be a beacon the western EU powers – these countries well understand what was prior to 1990. Finally they are able to stand up, breathe and live again, to feel and know that for their children and grandchildren they will leave a better place!
Yes, leadership is still alive!! – Thank God!

Ákos K
4 months ago
Reply to  Steve H

Thank God for a man like Orbán Viktor. Because of him, Hungarians have more freedom than I have in the US. I’m hoping to go back and retire in the land of my birth,, which my parents left and brought me to the US in November of 1956.

PapaGrouch
4 months ago
Reply to  Steve H

I was going to say a few syllables, Steve H, but you spoke the thunder. Well said, sir. I truly admire Orban, who preserves the family, traditional Judeo Christian values in things like education and morality, and the interests of his people. And he is a man who doesn’t let the EU dictate woke leftist policy for the people of Hungary. History will support this. Politics here could take a lesson from this man. President Trump understood this. ….guess a few syllables got squirted out anyway, but this is a critical time in our history.

BAE
4 months ago

He is a great leader. Orban is 100% for his people and their families. All kinds of great things to help parents and their children. Taking care of their borders and the protection of all Hungrians.

Tim Toroian
4 months ago

People are angry because he is a proud Hungarian, promotes it, and makes no apology for it nor should he. Check the Hungarian automobile business.

terg
4 months ago

I hope the US doesn’t bring him down like the did the elected ruler of the Ukraine back in 2014 or around that time. Then they got their puppet Zelensky.

SideWinder
4 months ago

Reason Numero uno for the commie globalist hatred of Victor Orban is because he absolutely will not let the wretched refuse from the Arab world and Subsaharan Africa set down roots and turn Hungary into a dump. He’s the Trump of Europe, and this Southron son of the Georgia red clay is seriously considering looking into retiring at least part-time in Hungary.

Morbious
4 months ago
Reply to  SideWinder

You’re on to something there. Hungary is free to chart a course away from global socialism because they dont have a 13% voting bloc that votes lefty 95% of the time

Philip Hammersley
4 months ago
Reply to  SideWinder

THAT and that he is a Christian!

Norm Behrens
4 months ago

Great article! If only we had a Viklor Orban for our USA – wouldn’t that be great??

Philip Hammersley
4 months ago
Reply to  Norm Behrens

We have at least one: DJT.

V.OZA
4 months ago

Viktor Orban strikes me as being a pragmatist vis-a-vis Hungary’s internal interests.
But, because he and his party won the elections with increased number of seats, in spite of the wishes of the Western European press and woke politicians, he is being maligned by the self same people. The Hungarian people spoke at the ballot box, and the woke crowd has to swallow their own bile and move on.

Stephen Russell
4 months ago

Will he rerun the 1956 Hungrian Rev with Putin??

James
4 months ago

When a person wants to follow Christian values Satan and all of his followers hate you and try to destroy you any way they because they don’t care for you or what you stand for, God.

Jim Croft
4 months ago

The main street press has been after this guy for awhile. I think he has the best interests of his countrymen at heart.
after all Europe is collapsing before our eyes. Why would a family friendly government align with these losers.

PapaGrouch
4 months ago
Reply to  Jim Croft

If the MSM is persecuting Orban then you KNOW he’s doing the right things for his people and his country. Jim, you are right and I hope and pray Orban stays in office for many more terms.

Casey C Matt
4 months ago

Well………the EU has now made it clear that they CANNOT tolerate democracy in Hungary. Immediately after the elections the EU sanctioned Hungary for being……….followers of Democratic principals I guess….coupled with Hungary not wishing to destroy itself like the rest of Europe in the stupid support of the incredibly corrupt Ukraine.
The EU cannot have that……no sir!!

Martin Plecki
4 months ago
Reply to  Casey C Matt

Casey, For some unknown reason, I could not give you a + vote, but I thought it deserved one:-)

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