Tactical voting and the struggle to unite the Hungarian opposition in the 11th hour

Five days before the 8th April vote, opposition parties are struggling to unite in swing ridings, and key politicians are contradicting each other. According to reports published in Index on Tuesday afternoon, the Hungarian Socialist Party – Párbeszéd alliance (MSZP-P) decided to withdraw its candidate in Central Budapest in favour of Antal Csárdi of the Politics Can Be Different party (LMP), even though a poll conducted just days ago showed that Márta Naszályi was the most popular of all opposition candidates. Conventional wisdom would have it that Central Budapest (the city’s 1st electoral district) is a right-leaning swing district, particularly due to areas such as the Buda Castle, and as such, LMP is a more palatable choice than the Socialist Party to disenchanted Fidesz voters.

In exchange for this concession to LMP, Index reports that the small opposition party is withdrawing its candidate in Budapest’s 17th electoral district (Csepel-Soroksár) in favour of MSZP’s Ildikó Borbély (Mrs. Bangó). The democratic opposition currently holds this district, but is facing a challenge from one of the roughest and most prominent Fidesz politicians, Szilárd Németh–best known for his bullying and for rendering Parliament’s National Security Committee dysfunctional through a protracted Fidesz boycott. Szabolcs Szabó of Együtt beat Fidesz here in 2014 and is still in the running. As such, the Socialists and Együtt must come to an agreement in this district to ensure it is not captured by Fidesz.

According to the Index report, MSZP has also decided to withdraw its candidate in Budapest’s 6th electoral district (Gödöllő) in favour of Szilvia Lengyel of LMP, while the LMP candidate in the town of Szeged (Csongrád county’s 1st electoral district) is withdrawing in favour of Sándor Szabó of MSZP. In exchange for some of MSZP’s withdrawals, LMP is pulling its candidates in a number of additional electoral districts in favour of the Socialists–above and beyond those mentioned above.

Bernadett Szél of LMP confirms that the report of these negotiations is basically correct, but Gergely Karácsony of MSZP-P not only denies that any agreement has been reached, but even that negotiations have been unfolding. Is it possible that MSZP is, indeed, negotiating with LMP and that Mr. Karácsony, who is not a Socialist is not aware of this? I suspect that Hungarian opposition voters are getting mighty irritated.

Election signs for Mr. Karácsony and the MSZP-Párbeszéd supported independent candidate in Pécs.

It’s important to remember why Hungarian parties are forced to go through the misery of these negotiations at the riding level. Prior to adopting the new electoral system introduced by Fidesz, there were two rounds of voting. In the first round, each candidate would run at the electoral district level. If a single candidate won more than 50% of the votes in an electoral district, there would be no need for a second round. If no candidate won more than 50%, a second round would be held two weeks later among only those candidates who captured at least 15% of the vote. Usually, this left three candidates on the ballot.

Fidesz’s new electoral system forces disparate parties to withdraw in favour of the presumed strongest opposition candidate before any ballots are cast, while the old system required coordination only after the dust had settled following the first round–at which point the local power dynamics had become a lot clearer. Fidesz won the elections in 1998 in the second round, removing Gyula Horn’s Socialists from power, specifically because the Smallholders’ Party withdrew 82 candidates in favour of Fidesz between the first and second round. The current system heavily favours a party like Fidesz-KDNP, which has no political allies, but disadvantages a diverse and fractured opposition. And this is the essence of what Prime Minister Viktor Orbán calls the “centrális erőtér” or the central field of force. As long as the opposition includes a relatively strong Jobbik and several left-centre or liberal parties (which find it difficult to cooperate with the former), Fidesz has the upper-hand in the first-past-the-post system that it devised for the 106 ridings.


Tactical Voting

Ádám Sanyó of a website that encourages tactical voting across the 106 ridings estimates that a turn-out of at least 70% and 500,000 tactical voters are needed to defeat Fidesz on 8 April. To put this into perspective, MSZP, then aligned with the Alliance of Free Democrats (SZDSZ), scored a surprise victory against Fidesz in the 2002 elections when turn-out exceeded 70% in the first round and 73% in the second round. Though the power dynamics between the parties and the electoral system at the time bear absolutely no resemblance to what it is today, there is one common thread: in 2002, Fidesz ran a very aggressive and highly negative campaign, and by doing so it unwittingly mobilized opposition voters. In 2002, opinion polls failed to track this degree of mobilization among opposition voters. In 2018, Fidesz’s overtly threatening campaign (including a comment by Mr. Orbán on Good Friday about a state security list containing the names and personal information of 2,000 Hungarians considered to be “Soros operatives” and thus monitored by authorities) is like nothing seen in Hungary since 1989.

Former Minister of Foreign Affairs Péter Balázs, representing a regime change group of conservative and liberal intellectuals called V18, now estimates that the opposition has a realistic chance of winning in 53 electoral districts: MSZP could win 20, Jobbik in 16, the Democratic Coalition in 9, LMP in 4, Együtt in 2 and two independent candidates stand a chance of winning as well. Voters must cast ballots strategically in these districts. This is a more optimistic estimate than what V18 first offered, at the start of the campaign.

The “magic number” needed to push Fidesz into minority territory is 45. This is how many ridings the opposition must win.


A new Republikon poll

I am sure many observers are wary of opinion polls, particularly after the opposition’s surprising win in Hódmezővásárhely’s mayoral election and very high levels of voters unwilling to disclose their voting intentions. But I feel compelled to share Republikon’s newest poll, published Tuesday–just five days before national elections. Republikon has Fidesz winning a majority (but not a two-thirds majority) on 8 April. Among decided voters, the party standings are as follows:

  • FIDESZ-KDNP: 49%
  • JOBBIK: 19%
  • MSZP-Párbeszéd: 17%
  • Democratic Coalition (DK): 5%
  • Politics Can Be Different (LMP): 4%
  • Együtt: 2%
  • Momentum: 2%

Fully 38% of respondents, however, claim to be undecided. This is an unusually high number less than a week before the vote. Republikon estimates that on voting day, party support will look a little different than the numbers published in the last poll, with Fidesz losing support compared to its 2014 results. This prediction is as follows:

  • FIDESZ-KDNP: 41%
  • JOBBIK: 21%
  • MSZP-P: 19%
  • DK: 6%
  • LMP: 6%

I get the feeling that perhaps more so than in any prior election, polls are increasingly stabs in the dark and must be taken with a hefty grain of salt. And this is not due to any failing on the part of Hungarian pollsters, but rather the unpredictability of between 600,000 and 900,000 Hungarians who, in an intense climate of fear, are not revealing their true intentions.


*UPDATE*: After a short period of confusion, and about an hour after this article appeared, Gergely Karácsony confirmed that MSZP-Párbeszéd is willing to withdraw candidates in four electoral districts, including those listed in this piece, in support of the local LMP or Együtt candidate. In exchange, however, LMP and Együtt are expected to withdraw their candidate in favour of MSZP-P or DK in every other electoral district deemed winnable for the opposition. The parties will reportedly negotiate all night, so as to reach a final deal by Wednesday.


  1. So the politicians can make any deals even in the final days before the election, behind closed doors, even long after the ballots are printed and distributed to each and every voting districts.

    What the do “elections” really have to do with the outcome the voting public may desire? Or more simply asking , what difference will the “elections” really make ?

    Some will not even be on the ballots, some that are on the ballots are removed. Is it not really just a show, or would say to fool the world?
    Since there is really no real, or actual selection of the candidates.

    There is NO line on the ballot with the names for MPs, or for Parliament member, or anything. Just names for several parties. In this case to be 23. Almost like back in 1932 Germany. And the one that was not even on the ballot and who’s party only received 32% of all the votes became the Chancellor-Fuhrer. But 68% of the voting public voted against his party when they voted for other parties. Is the same thing going to happen in Hungary this time also ?

    Hardly could be any different, since they copied the same old “nazi” system !!!

    • Avatar Hungarian Free Press says:

      There are two ballots in Hungarian elections. Party names, logos and the names of the top candidates of each party are printed on the national party list ballot. When it comes to the second ballot, the name of each individual candidate running in an electoral district appears alongside the name of their respective party. When a local candidate withdraws so close to the day of the election, officials in each voting station must manually cross out the name of the withdrawn candidate with a pen and a ruler, prior to handing the second ballot to the voter. All ballots have already been printed at this late stage, so election officials will have a lot of crossing out to do on the day of the vote.

  2. Very interesting, could say perhaps educational too, but as having the “name of every party”, the “party’s logo” and the “name of the top candidate of each and every party”.

    So the voter can vote for who or what?
    One of each, any, or all ?
    But than who or how is it determined who might be the winner?
    And of having 23 parties competing, hardly any chance of any one may get as much as 10% of the votes.
    So what party, or which candidate is considered the “winner”?
    Since there is NO primary , or run-off election.

    Now, honestly, do you see that as a democratic or fair and reasonable system of election?

  3. LMP, Jobbik, MSZP, Momentum voters are all ready to put aside their differences and vote for the candidate with the best chance of winning. Yes, this means that a large majority of socialists are willing to vote for Jobbik and a large majority of Jobbik voters are willing to vote Socialist. The proportion of voters willing to cast ballots for parties that they otherwise dislike, just to defeat FIDESZ is more than two thirds, according to Median and sometimes as high as 80% (in the case of DK voters). So when will the party leaders catch up with their voters?

    Don’t those party leaders understand what ordinary voters already know? If Fidesz wins another majority next Sunday, the opposition will be politically and possibly physically eliminated by Orban. The opposition and even NGO leaders will be jailed and possibly even murdered by Fidesz and Christian Democratic henchmen. This election is about their lives. Do opposition politicians have a death wish?? Because they are acting like it!

    • Don’t expect the politicians to sort this out – there may still be some candidates pulling out in favor of others, but voters will have to get informed themselves. Perhaps the most widely accepted “independent” list of who to vote for if you just want to get rid of Fidesz is published with the help of Márki-Zay Péter, the new mayor of Hódmezővásárhely:

  4. Avatar Máté Pál says:

    I think what is going on with the opposition parties is totally wrong. I don’t look at this as sincere politics. To work on an election campaign solely to oust the government is downright childish. If individual parties think they are good enough to form a government and think they are able to run a country, they should look at their own capabilities, not to juggle around with other parties. Personally, it just shows how incapable the individual parties are of organising and ruling. In my view, none of the opposition should be running for government, because they are incapable of ruling. The Socialists have already shown that with Gyurcsány. If the opposition parties can’t do the job individually, then for goodness sake leave it to the Orbán Viktor government to carry on doing the wonderful job they have been doing for the past 8 years. God Bless Orbán Viktor and for the country that really deserves him, God Bless Hungary.

    • Avatar David Robert Evans says:

      Refreshing to have a blast of hot air from Fidesz propaganda central on this page! I would agree with you that there is a certain amount of what the British call a smoke-filled room syndrome about these last-minute agreements based on petty calculations and no doubt many personal considerations and grievances. It should have happened earlier for the whole process to be credible and fair to voters. But what you refer to as talent for ruling on the part of Fidesz is not a talent for ruling in the fair, democratic, Western sense. It is a talent for ruling in an aggressive, manipulative, dishonest, authoritarian, divisive, paranoid, openly racist, retrograde, and, I suspect, soon quite dictatorial manner. Fidesz isn’t a couple of smoke-filled rooms in the run-up to an election; it is a constant smoke-filled room in which the only real personal considerations and grievances that count are those of its leader, and where people’s share in the process of ruling you are so impressed by is their loyalty, not their ideas, or talent.

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