There are 23 parties on the national list – 15 of them fake.
Orbán has put a great effort into making his opposition irrelevant and toothless during the last 8 years. He employed different tactics. For one thing, he made sure they remained fragmented. During the last 8 years they put more effort into infighting and positioning themselves within the opposition than trying to defeat Orbán.
Just like everyone else in the country, they became resigned and eventually gave up. And thus they have turned into the autocrat’s best friend, making the voters feel that there is absolutely nothing they can achieve with their voting. Opposition parties were not just too fragmented for either of them to gain any majority – they also behaved appallingly.
They approached the campaign fighting each other – not Fidesz. They can only react to Orbán’s campaign theme (racism), they can’t push their own agenda (even though the Orbán family’s corruption issues and staying pro-Europe would offer them great opportunities). They don’t really have programs beyond reassuring voters that they totally stand behind Orbán’s wall and against migrants – and are just as “patriotic” (read: nationalist) as Orbán. How attractive is that?
What looks like petty ideological squabbling and ego fights from the outside may just be that: petty ego fights. But they are also the result of Orbán’s salami tactic. He borrowed it from the Nazis and communists **and he already used it against his coalition partners between 1998-2002. And of course, we have no idea what is going on behind the curtains. Many voters are convinced that some of the opposition’s morons are on Orbán’s payroll (or blackmailed by him). They are committing their own betrayal by putting their own political future ahead of the country. They are following the only path left open for them by Orbán: infighting, irrelevance and survival. Either pushed by Orbán, or motivated by their own reasons, but they are betraying the voters who wish to stay in Europe and keep the regime honest.
15 fake parties mean that there are still 7 real opposition parties – 6 on what we call the democratic side. And six is still plenty.
The fragmented opposition is, in turn, unable to win elections under Fidesz’ election law. It rewards big, monolithic parties – meaning Fidesz. Fidesz is a thoroughly autocratic party. Orbán was never challenged* for leadership, their party conferences are a show, and once they even forgot to put it on, a journalist reminded them. Fidesz is a one-man show of Viktor Orbán. Who, in turn, turned Hungary into a one-man show of himself. Everyone is dependent from him economically and politically – or just for not receiving a crippling tax audit – within and outside the party. (And no, there is nothing you can do to avoid a fine, paying your taxes doesn’t mean that you are clean and untouchable by the taxman.)
Come to the 2018 elections in particular, there were some more petty tools employed.
Fake parties for the national list
Fake parties are not simply tiny parties that I cruelly dismiss as fake. They are genuinely bogus. Their candidates are often unaware that they became candidates. The reason? By getting onto the national ballot, they can gain millions of euros and walk away with it, legally. Fidesz’ 2011 election law allows this kind of electoral fraud.
Having enough local candidates in enough districts allows you get on the national list. Now that’s not something anyone would aspire to – but the campaign allowance they receive for it is. Millions of euros go to anyone who manages to collect enough signatures. Even if the candidates themselves have no idea their personal data is being used and submitted for candidacy.
And the signature system makes it even easier to commit this fraud since it allows the same citizen to support multiple parties. If someone collects the necessary signatures for one party, they might just copy the sheets and submit them for a few more fake parties. With sufficient attempts, some will slip through because there is no way to ask every citizen whether they really were approached by 15 different no-name parties and signed for them. By the deadline over 40 party lists were submitted. 23 of them were registered. That means 15 fake parties slipped through. Just take a million euro in campaign allowance each – and those people are rich. When the Fidesz-government was warned before the 2014 elections that their new law created this loophole – they insisted on keeping it.
In the actual elections, the fake parties serve two purposes:
1) Just look at the list. I helpfully crossed out the non-existent parties. Three of them didn’t even bother with a logo. In a tighter polling situation where every vote counts this might decide mandates.
2) The other way this helps Fidesz is that they can now accuse anyone of faking their recommendations. Real candidates might easily be blocked – you justhave to cpy their sheets and accuse them of copying from you. Didn’t happen yet but in a tighter race it could be used one day.
Don’t you dare to coordinate your local candidates
After the overwhelming victory of an all-opposition candidate in Fidesz’ stronghold late February, the question on everyone’s mind is whether they can repeat it in every electoral district. Fidesz only won by an absolute majority (50%+) in 20 of the districts in 2014 and their support has decreased – discontent increased since. The rest of the districts were taken by Fidesz in 2014 because the opposition split up the votes.
Out of the 106 local mandates the opposition should take 45-50 in order to force Fidesz into a minority government. But that is unlikely to happen if they don’t coordinate. Or if they can’t.
Orbán openly threatened the opposition parties that they should not coordinate or else. This on top of his supposed list of 2000 enemies by name, calling the opposition a national security risk, threatening with revenge after the elections.
But there are also systemic tools, baked into the election law, that block parties from coordinating local candidates:
- They lose their campaign allowance if the number of their local candidates sinks below 27 due to withdrawals.
- In fact, they have to pay hundreds of thousands of euros back with every withdrawal. The number of their candidates is monitored until the last minute to punish them if they coordinate in order to win against the Fidesz candidate.
- And remember, these are the parties that were fined into bankruptcy 6 weeks before the elections – only allowed to run if they didn’t contest the rightfulness of the fines. They submitted, but after the elections they have to pay up.
As a consequence, three days before the elections only 3 out of 106 districts have a a single opposition candidate.
Would you like to see a neatly sliced salami? Let me show you nine!
* Before someone point out, technically, there was a guy who ran against him in 1994. His name is not remembered and it would be an amusing margin note on history to find out what made him (or Orbán?) think it is a good idea.
** According to Wikipedia, the term “Salami tactics” was actually coined by Hungarian communist leader Mátyás Rákosi to describe the communist tactics of eliminating opposition by slicing them up like a salami. It was called “piecemeal strategy” by the Nazis who used it to gain complete power in Germany. Wikipedia also recommends to look up “boiling frog” and “death by a thousand cuts” for those interested in the topic.
To quote from Wikipedia:
“The term salami tactics (Hungarian: szalámitaktika) was coined in the late 1940s by the orthodox communist leader Mátyás Rákosi to describe the actions of the Hungarian Communist Party. Rákosi claimed he destroyed the non-Communist parties by “cutting them off like slices of salami.” By portraying his opponents as fascists (or at the very least fascist sympathizers), he was able to get the opposition to slice off its right wing, then its centrists, then the more courageous left wingers, until only those fellow travelers willing to collaborate with the Communists remained in power.”
“The term is also known as a “piecemeal strategy”. It was used by the Nazi Party (which used the term Gleichschaltung) to achieve absolute power in Germany, beginning in the early months of 1933. The Reichstag fire of February 27 rattled the German population and led to the Reichstag Fire Decree, leading to the suspension of many civil liberties and outlawing of the Communist Party and the Social Democrat parties. An estimated 10,000 people were arrested in two weeks. An Enabling Act soon followed on March 24. The act gave Hitler plenary power, which allowed him to bypass the Reichstag and consolidate power. Hitler and the Nazis then eliminated such potential opposition as trade unions and rival political parties. They established organizations with mandatory membership, such as the Hitler Youth, Bund Deutscher Mädel and Arbeitsdienst. The Enabling Act was renewed in 1937 and 1941.”