Uprising in Hungary — Orbán regime suffers historic defeat in its most loyal bastion

Viktor Orbán’s party knew Sunday morning that it was in serious trouble, and of all places in its most loyal bastion, the town of Hódmezővásárhely (population 47,000). This is a city that has been ruled by Fidesz or the right since 1990. Péter Márki-Zay, the independent candidate for mayor supported by the entire opposition, bumped into his rival for the mayoralty, Fidesz candidate Zoltán Hegedűs, at the market this morning. Mr. Márki-Zay was stunned: the Fidesz politician was actually polite to him. Then we found out that János Lázár, a former local mayor and the current Minister of the Prime Minister’s Office did something completely new: he escaped the television cameras by voting early in the morning. After this we discovered that Fidesz was not holding an election night party in Hódmezővásárhely. It was as if the regime felt that there was trouble on the horizon and it was best to disappear.

And trouble there was. The turn-out in the local election reached 63%–strikingly higher than in any previous local election and even higher than national elections in 2014. And then the results came in:

  • Péter Márki-Zay (INDEPENDENT): 57.35%
  • Zoltán Hegedűs (FIDESZ-KDNP): 41.83%
  • Gyula Hernádi (INDEPENDENT): 0.82%

Péter Márki-Zay on February 25th.

During the campaign, Fidesz threw the proverbial kitchen sink at the avowedly conservative Mr. Márki-Zay, who is also a practicing Roman Catholic. Fidesz claimed that the opposition’s candidate was insane, that he wanted to cause chaos, that he was a lackey of Lajos Simicska and quite remarkably coming from Fidesz, that he “wanted to rob the town’s cash register.” But it was not just the politician who came under attack, but ordinary, private residents of Hódmezővásárhely, who were seen to support him. Fidesz went as far as to name and shame ordinary residents on campaign posters and in flyers.

Election poster naming and shaming private residents of Hódmezővásárhely for supporting the opposition candidate.

Márki-Zay paid a heavy personal price for running against the regime. In December 2017, right before Christmas, the father of seven young children was fired from his job at a multinational company. The firm claimed that they decided to dismiss Márki-Zay in October, but for some reason opted to let him go before Christmas, soon after he announced his candidacy in the mayoralty. Reportedly, Márki-Zay was hesitant to run for office and was warned by friends and family that this is a dangerous move in Orbán’s Hungary.

Fidesz campaigned hard in this otherwise solid bastion because internal polling showed that the united opposition candidate was viable. Viktor Orbán campaigned alongside the candidate, as did János Lázár–the latter on a regular basis. The government also showered the city in promises of lavish funds and investments. The minister of national defense promised to invest 5.2 billion forints, Lajoa Kósa then committed an additional 12 billion forints. In the middle of the campaign, residents over 62 years of age were promised 10,000 forints each (C$50) as a gift.

Yet this was no longer enough. And the George Soros boogeyman did not do the trick either.

A few weeks ago, a journalist from Index attended a campaign event organized by the Fidesz candidate. The journalist asked an elderly man what a possible win for the opposition would mean for his town. The implication was that a win by the opposition would suck the city dry of government funding. The elderly man, who was presumably a Fidesz-supporter considering his presence at a Fidesz event, surprised the journalist when he responded: “The city will have been liberated.”

17 Comments

  1. StrandedinSopron says:

    I am stunned.

    An interesting point is that none of the pollsters predicted anything close to this begging the question: how over-estimated is the Fidesz vote nationally? I can fully understand that in Orban’s Hungary people are afraid to outline their true thoughts to pollsters but still….

    • Hungarian Free Press says:

      I may be wrong, but I don’t recall seeing any local public polls conducted in Hódmezővásárhely during this campaign. That said, I know that Fidesz had internal polls, which showed that they were in trouble, hence their disappearing act this morning. I also think that it is correct to assume that national polls overestimate Fidesz support. I expected Hódmezővásárhely to be close–and if I were a betting man, this morning I would have said that the opposition would win by a tiny margin. (I wrote 99% of this article five hours before polls closed.) I did not expect this. I don’t think anyone did. A 16% margin for the opposition is simply staggering.

  2. Andras B. Gollner says:

    Perhaps “Uprising in Hódmezővásárhely” would be a more appropriate title for this piece. Still, the victory of the anti-Fidesz forces in this small, rural Fidesz bastion of a town is noteworthy. Mr. Márki -Zay derserves the applause of all democrats. He turned on Leviathan and won. The people of Hódmezővásárhely should feel justifiably proud. With this massive turn-out, they provided evidence of the resurgence of Hungarians’ desire for the rule of law, a desire to take their country back from Putin’s Hungarian puppet.

    Will it herald a shift in voting behavior in the national elections? At the moment it is not very likely, though not impossible. Fidesz has never been able to muster more than about 35% of the eligible votes, and has won because of low turnout In 2014 the ruling party won a massive parliamentary majority with only 27% of the eligible votes. (This is why, the idea of an electoral boycott advocated by some Budapest liberal intellectuals is such an utterly stupid and counterproductive idea.)

    Instead of chattering in Budapest cafés and on the pages of papers no one reads outside of Budapest liberal circles, Hungary’s democrats should follow the example of Márki-Zay. They should roll up their shirt sleeves, get down to work, and earn the respect of Hungary’s citizens by operating hard-working, permanent riding level representations throughout the country. Most importantly, they should provide concrete evidence of their ability to govern, rather than simply wax eloquently in front of their fan-club.

  3. Let me try to get this. There was a local election for mayor in Hodmezovasarhely. And the winning candidate did not know about it at all,he only learned about it by running into his opponent at the market, and by simply that his opponent was friendly to him ?

    OK. that’s how elections go some times. But I am afraid I have missed something in it.
    What kind of election that could have been, if the winner do not even know about it,until he bumps into his opponent in the market?

    What did I miss ?

    Beside, do mayors have there voting rights, or only the city council? Is not the mayor the so called chief executive, and the council makes all the decisions?

    • Bendeguz–the polls opened early Sunday morning and shortly thereafter the two candidates bumped into each other at the local market. The Fidesz candidate seemed unusually polite and this got Márki-Zay wondering about this. Fidesznyiks are not known for being pleasant or charitable to demonstrating sportsmanship to opponents. As it turns out, Fidesz knew that it would lose the election. Probably internal party polling told them this a couple of days ago.

      As for the mayor’s power. In this particular case, Márki-Zay may have his hands tied by a Fidesz majority on local council…unless Fidesz politicians realize that sabotaging the new mayor will further turn the locals against them. But with one month to go before national elections, this is not a local story. It’s about the fact that Fidesz support is being overestimated by pollsters and that a united opposition and a good candidate can mean defeating Fidesz elsewhere too.

  4. Andras B. Gollner says:

    @ Bendy goose

    “Let me try to get this.”

    Don’t bother. You won’t get it, even if you try, bendy.

  5. Andras B. Gollner says:

    @ bendy goose

    “what did I miss?”

    The garbage can, as always.

  6. OK Lanark, I know all about how nasty any fidesz person is.
    The question is’
    1., Elections are scheduled for April 8, YET at that place they had election today for city officials.

    2., Fidesz has ESP to know just when the polls open that they lost.
    3., The winning candidate just went shopping during election.
    4., Internal party poling told them couple of days ahead? That’s like having the election fixed in advance.
    5., What is “particular” in this case?
    Does the mayor has a vote on the city council?
    Or run the day to day operation of the city?

    I appreciate if you answer these questions.
    (Please leave the double PhD and the garbage cans out of it ! Thanks.

  7. Fidesz will only be in danger of losing the national election if people know who to vote for to get rid of them. The winning candidate here was essentially a conservative candidate supported by all opposition parties including Jobbik. Will such cooperation be possible in April, can DK and Jobbik work together nationwide?

  8. What about Momentum? Do you think it will be relevant?

    • Hungarian Free Press says:

      In the case of Momentum, a lot will hinge on whether the party will be able to field at least 27 candidates in single member constituencies, in order to have a national party list. To achieve this, they must gather at least 500 valid signatures from locals in each of the electoral districts. I hear that they are struggling to do this and based on the data on the national elections office site, Momentum thus far has only 3 declared candidates. They have one more week to catch up. If they fail to form a party list because they have proven unable to nominate the required number of candidates, I suspect the party will vanish like a similarly youthful, and dynamic (and heavily Budapest-based) party did in 2014, called 4K.

      If Momentum does manage to field a national party list, they will come under pressure from opposition voters to cooperate with the other opposition parties and rescind candidates in districts where the opposition stands the best chance of beating Fidesz.

    • On Feb. 7 I wrote this comment about Momentum on the article about about Balázs Nemes: A Reformed….

      “Let’s hope Mr. Nemes has genuinely changed his views, but Momentum is not the force it promised to be when campaigning for signatures against the Olympics, apparently there is a lot of infighting, and they are stuck at around 1-2% in opinion polls.”

      Recently, they started talking about cooperating with LMP…

      • Hungarian Free Press says:

        Yes, this is absolutely correct. In fact, I recall that LMP indicated that they would happily sit down for coffee with Momentum after the deadline for fielding candidates. I suspect LMP realizes that after the Monday deadline, Momentum will be even more weakened. A party that became somewhat arrogant over the past months will undergo a reality check.

  9. Hi!
    Answers:
    1., Elections are scheduled for April 8, YET at that place they had election today for city officials. – István Almási, the mayor of the town had passed away, an internal election was held.
    2., Fidesz has ESP to know just when the polls open that they lost. – That’s anyone’s guess.
    3., The winning candidate just went shopping during election. – Probably to meet voters and convnce them to participate. In Hungary politicians hold public office hours at local markets.
    4., Internal party poling told them couple of days ahead? That’s like having the election fixed in advance. – Highly unlikely that Fidesz had internal polls indicating defeat. Of course, there was polling before, but their results weren’t made public. The election was democratic, otherwise the oppostiton could have not won.
    5., What is “particular” in this case? – A stronghold of the Fidesz Party has fallen to a freshman in politics, who had only his honesty to offer.
    Does the mayor has a vote on the city council?
    Or run the day to day operation of the city? – Yes, together with the representative body: 10 members of Fidesz to 4 members of the opposition + mayor.

    I appreciate if you answer these questions. – You are welcome.

  10. Fidesz will win the upcoming election but not a supermajority – too much corruption and borderline authoritarianism.

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