Orbán hasn’t attended a single prime ministerial debate since 2006.
The last time he participated in such a debate was in 2006, when he subsequently lost the elections. He didn’t accept the results, it was his second surprise defeat in a row. Heavy protests and a minor riot broke out in downtown Budapest.
In 2010, it wasn’t in his interest to participate. He was bound to win by a landslide against the scandal-ridden MSZP after the financial crisis. In 2014, he had, once again, nothing to gain from a debate so he skipped it.
In 2018 he has more to worry about. He cannot lose his majority, but his support and legitimacy might take a serious nosedive. Curiously though, he still refrained from participating in a debate and preferred to spread his message of fear and hatred for migrants in heavily controlled campaign events.
“The time for debates is over“, wrote his press chief, while his communications director was even more nonsensical:
“Real and meaningful debate is not possible with those who are unwilling to keep even the most elementary interests of the country at heart, in fact, they are acting against it with all their might. Debating under these circumstances is hypocrisy. Worse than hypocrisy, it would be the disregard of voters.”
After all, an aspiring autocrat doesn’t even accept the legitimacy of his opposition. He and his ministers repeatedly called the opposition and civil society a national security risk. (It was only logical that after one of their vicious seances in Budapest, someone asked why they don’t reintroduce the death penalty against these enemies. If what they are claiming is true, these people are worse than murderers.)
Furthermore, the opposition’s prime ministerial candidates must not appear in the same league as Orbán, must not sit at the same table as the king, and any impression that Orbán might be an ordinary mortal must be avoided at all cost. He is not a mere candidate, after all.
Orbán’s campaign tour was also kept in secret, he arrived in towns without a public announcement so that only his followers could turn up – no press or protesters. He kept his campaign wrap up in Székesfehérvár, where he lived from the age of 14, not Budapest. Some believe it was because the countryside is more under his control. He controls media and enjoys much stronger electoral support. Others wondered whether it was just an evasive tactics to avoid facing a potentially hostile Budapest crowd.
He hasn’t given a single interview to a media outlet that has not been controlled by him since 2010
135 out of 176 interviews he gave went to Fidesz-controlled outlets (public broadcaster or cronified private media) – and the remaining 41 interviews weren’t exactly critical either.
He does give speeches to his most dedicated followers in strictly controlled environments such as his annual state of the nation speech, his party’s summer festival in Romania where he shares his revelations like a guru or visionary, and his weekly sermon on radio that he gives to what is colloquially known a “microphone stand” – a reporter who is only there to ask questions like:
“Our audience would kill me if I didn’t as about the spectacular economic developments.”
“Mr Prime Minister, isn’t it a terrible burden to be so great?”
His office routinely bounces back every request for an interview, opinion or TV appearance on independent media. One of the explanations is that he has nothing to gain. The other is that he might be out of touch and wouldn’t react well to criticism.
Orbán has never been challenged for his party’s leadership
Not even after his disastrous election defeats. Ever.
Technically, there was one bloke in 1994 who ran against him at the party congress but it wasn’t serious.
But even his party’s congresses are just a show. They are meant to take place every other year – except when it goes forgotten. One year a journalist reminded them that it was perhaps time to act like they have democratic leadership contest. Everyone knows they don’t, but still.
And Fidesz hasn’t released a party program for these elections. I accuse their opposition of not having a vision – but neither does the king. Or at least he doesn’t think it is our business to know.
What did anyone expect from Fidesz, really?