Ferenc Gyurcsány’s Democratic Coalition becomes largest opposition party in Hungary

The Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP) and Jobbik both had their respective rendez-vous with destiny on Sunday night. At the same time, former Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány’s Democratic Coalition (DK) and the fledgling Momentum party, both underestimated in opinion polls, caused much surprise by their strong showing in European Parliament elections in Hungary.

The results were as follows, with turn-out at 43.37%:

  • Fidesz-KDNP: 52.44% (13 seats)
  • Democratic Coalition: 16.15% (4 seats)
  • Momentum: 9.87% (2 seats)
  • Hungarian Socialist Party: 6.65% (1 seat)
  • Jobbik: 6.39% (1 seat)
  • Mi Hazánk: 3.31% (0 seats)
  • Hungarian Two-Tailed Dog Party: 2.61% (0 seats)
  • Politics Can Be Different (LMP): 2.17% (0 seats)
  • Munkáspárt – Workers’ Party: 0.42% (0 seats)

The Democratic Coalition, in particular, ran a campaign with an unambiguous, simple message and was represented not by Mr. Gyurcsány, still something of a political bogeyman in Fidesz and some opposition circles, but by his accomplished wife, Klára Dobrev. And the message was clear: DK stands for a federal, closely integrated European Union, which the party mostly referred to as the United States of Europe. In concrete terms, that means coordinated European action on a number of bread and butter issues across all states: action against child poverty, an EU-wide minimum pension, an EU minimum wage, a new EU tax on multinational corporations and EU funds for affordable housing. Amidst all these social solidarity ideas, DK was most explicit in positioning itself in direct opposition to the rising far-right in Europe, mentioning by name the likes of Viktor Orbán, Marine Le Pen and Matteo Salvini.

Klára Dobrev (left) and Ferenc Gyurcsány (right) cast their ballots on Sunday, with their children.

In this election campaign, DK maintained its hard-line anti-Orbán regime stance, continuing to be the party least ready to compromise with the system, but added to its platform some centre-left economic policies. Prior to this, DK seemed more like a socially liberal, but economically neo-liberal formation. Today, it is clearly positioning itself to serve as the country’s leading centre-left force.

The Hungarian Socialist Party, meanwhile, was left in the dust, with its worst electoral performance in the past 30 years. While MSZP won three national elections since Hungary’s transition to democracy, the Socialists may have lost for good their status as a viable alternative and as a potential governing party. Even in Budapest, MSZP-Párbeszéd garnered only 9% of the vote, finishing far behind DK, which received 20% and even Momentum at 17%. It is exceedingly difficult to see how MSZP will recover and its alliance with the small, but youthful Párbeszéd party, one of their only hopes of breathing life into an ageing and tired group, is over. This is a terrible position to be in merely five months before the politically far more important local and regional elections in October 2019.

Momentum stole some of the youthful appeal of Párbeszéd and in some ways spoke to a similar voting base: well-educated, younger urbanites, some supporters of the alternative left, and others simply ill at ease with the “traditional” left-centre politicians of MSZP and DK. Momentum’s surprisingly strong showing echoes the shock that Jobbik sent through the Hungarian establishment in the 2009 EP elections, when its support was about three times higher than what pollsters had predicted.

On Sunday, however, Jobbik was taken down many notches. Its attempt to redefine itself as a more centrist political force had failed and it bled away far-right votes to both Fidesz and to the fledgling Mi Hazánk party. Jobbik was never truly credible as a bona fide moderate political formation and the other opposition parties were tortured by the prospect of having to collaborate with a group that billed itself as the leading opposition voice. The torturous debates around cooperation with Jobbik are over. Equally reassuring to those on the opposition is the demise of Politics Can Be Different (LMP)–the once promising green party, committed to doing everything differently than the old elites. Unfortunately, people believed by many to be secretly in the pay of Fidesz, perhaps most notably the deeply problematic Péter Ungár, sealed LMP’s fate. The party’s leadership has resigned and it’s quite likely that LMP has reached the end of its political road.

It must be mentioned that despite the rise of DK and Momentum, and even though Fidesz did not manage to mobilize its voting base to the point of reaching an overall turn-out of between 45% and 50%, which had reportedly been the governing party’s goal, these EP results are not promising for the opposition. What we see is a realignment within the opposition and former MSZP supporters abandoning their party for DK, rather than many new voters being attracted or activated. The results seen Sunday night are not ones that foreshadow the beginning of a potential regime change in Hungary.

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