There were three elections in 2019 for which Orbán had to behave. Two of those are behind us, and the last one is coming soon. But there is one more thing that can shake Orbán: losing his supermajority at a byelection. It had happened before and blocked his legislative juggernaut for three years – because he is good at dictating, not at reaching a consensus.
In April 20019 Orbán had awarded himself yet another damaging supermajority of parliamentary seats in a dubious general election. Everything about those elections was highly suspicious at best, highly incompetent at the very least, and the results were downright odd. Not to mention that even the Fidesz members expected to lose their supermajority (and have to live with a simple majority) but somehow the 2/3 still happened.
Then he had won the EU parliamentary elections by a landslide for his party, Fidesz – but since other horses from the same political stable had weakened throughout Europe, so did Orbán’s position as the downhill-trendsetter of the EU.
The last elections he has to watch out for (and after which he will have free reign and no pretense to maintain) will be the local elections in the autumn. He had already announced to rewrite the constitution again after it. Sure, he had claimed that he will only rewrite it if his candidate wins Budapest – but he can also do it if he doesn’t. And what a bully can do, a bully will do. When will we learn?
But there is one more thing that can put a damper on his glorious march of unfettered power: the small chance that one of his MPs would resign (or more likely die because they don’t resign, not even when they are caught shutting gypsies in ovens and trowing a burning match at them) and a byelection would be called.
Orbán’s ‘precious’ vs byelections
Everything that works in Orbán’s favor during general elections will be missing from a byelection. (Almost everything. Voters are still skittish for fear of losing all public funds as a revenge for not voting for Orbán’s party hard enough.)
General elections proved to be difficult to monitor. Opposition parties weren’t even present at 75% of voting stations in April – only to realize that their trust in the bureaucracy had been monumentally misplaced and unsubstantiated. After the April elections, voter participation declined – and from those, only Fidesz voters kept turning up at local byelections. Apathy ruled the land – until the EU-elections.
At which point a minor miracle happened: two opposition parties emerged out of the fragmented opposition landscape and clearly ruled the day, even if the opposition as such had lost. If someone would have missed the significance of it, Fidesz-media had shown just how much Fidesz hated it by attacking them with as much force as they could muster, down to and including branding them “the enemy of the nation” and declaring that “all tools are acceptable” in the fight against them. (We are talking about two MEPs who distributed the information that Fidesz MEPs are indeed from Fidesz – a fact which they have tried to hide when running for Brussels positions.) Now you know how much even a tiny pebble in Orbán’s shoe upsets the monolithic political and media landscape here.
The not-completely-devastating-defeat has galvanized the Hungarian opposition once again. (Orbán’s spies as well as the actual oppositioners.) They are now trying to achieve what they could not accomplish in the few weeks before the general elections: to try and agree on a common candidate in as many districts as possible, because the winner-takes-it-all-and-then-some election system written for Fidesz simply doesn’t allow for multiple opposition parties. And that is what Fidesz is trying to block with all its might.
Of course, a non-Fidesz voter doesn’t need to be told twice that a certain opposition politician is not pure enough to vote for – they are inclined towards apathy and grab every excuse to justify their own – but Fideszniks are telling those stories nonetheless. But that’s just the local elections, a country-wide affair once again, hard to monitor and governed by a pro-Fidesz election law, run by an OfFidesz bureaucrat class, and jilted because voters don’t want to live in “opposition cities” for the justified fear of not getting a single cent for public services for the next 5 years.
But there is something byelections know that general elections don’t: they are localized and still get nationwide attention.
None of the usual election tricks work as well when that happens. Journalists of nationwide and independent outlets can actually go there and report, for instance, because a byelection only takes place in one district, not all of them.
Byelections have the potential to turn the tables.
Especially if their result is relevant to national politics. It is harder to cheat. It is unlikely, for instance, that the election committee revises participation rate downwards by 5% – 30 minutes after polling closed, while people are still queuing in force, just as it happened in April. It is impossible to destroy so many votes claiming that they didn’t know how to count them. It is also impossible to announce a 3-hour news embargo after polls close to execute such revisions. It is impossible to utilize the more than one million foreign voters who had been awarded Hungarian passports by Orbán during the last years. And there will most certainly be delegates from non-Fidesz parties present at counting.
It had happened before.
In 2015, just a year after Orbán’s re-election in 2014, one of his MPs moved on to become an EU commissioner. He wasn’t just from some swing district either. He left a perennial Fidesz stronghold behind – and yet, an independent candidate managed to channel the dissatisfaction with Fidesz to take over the mandate and thus kill Orbán’s precious 2/3. He went door-to-door and told people that alternatives to Fidesz exist. (Something they don’t hear from the media anymore, as the Fidesz-dominated media outlets simply refuse to have a single non-Fidesz politician talking or a non-Fidesz view to accidentally make it to the news or their papers.)
Orbán wanted a bigger margin in 2018 than he had in 2014 for exactly this reason.
This time he went 2-3 mandates over the number of MPs necessary for his precious 2/3 – even though even polls were predicting a simple majority for him. But he declared his majority to be 2 MPs strong (after the aforementioned 3-hour news embargo and amidst weird and inexplicable scenes playing out in polling stations among vote-counters). And when a court later reduced his margin to only one candidate, he was furious. (Hence his fury and his new proposal to give politically sensitive issues – such as elections – to his own courts that he would set up and run through his own ministry. The proposal is now pending because he wanted to appease EU bigwigs – but he will no doubt continue anyway when either the bigwigs give him what he wants or when they don’t.)
In early December one of his MPs passed away – albeit from a party list and thus no byelection was necessary. But we have already seen how impossible it is to remove any Fidesz MP, despite well-documented corruption or massive scandals. And the reason for that is (partially) the fear of byelections. (Also, keeping a politician in his seat, even promoting him after a scandal, is a perfect way to make your opposition feel even more helpless and ultimately give up trying. For now, a Fidesz MP attacked is a Fidesz MP safer in his seat than he was before being attacked.)
Even with the grotesquely pro-Fidesz election law, a united opposition candidate can win seats (as we have seen in Hódmezővásárhely) and if the independent media and local activists somehow manage to get the news out that these byelections matter, people actually turn up.
It can not break Orbán, but if his precious 2/3 is gone, he will have to govern with less-than-2/3 and he is not good at that.
Between 2015-18 he was unable to push anything through, simply because he lost his overmajority. The legislative damage he could impose was limited by the loss of his precious – not so much a great politician as a talentless despot, really. No wonder he is in a hurry to push through all the new laws that make his power neverending as soon as possible.
In short, Orbán can be caught naked without his precious 2/3.
And that explains why a Fidesz MP cannot be removed, even if he rapes a child in broad daylight and before cameras.