The April 2022 election can only have four possible outcomes.
- Yet another constitutional supermajority for Orbán
- A simple majority for Orbán
- A simple majority for the united opposition
- A supermajority for the united opposition
The date of the election sin April 3. As of January 2022, the competition between Orbán’s Fidesz and the united opposition is very tight – that is all we can ascertain from the polls. (We should exclude the pollsters with party affiliations because they only ever predict the victory of their own parties.) But an equal support doesn’t mean an equal outcome. Far from it.
According to a calculation, the opposition should beat Orbán by 2-5% nationwide in order to just break even in terms of mandates. According to another calculation, the January nationwide poll data for Orbán vs the united opposition is 47% – 46.5%, respectively. A mere 0.5% difference. But it would result in a ten percent lead or Orbán in parliament – due to the distorting nature of Orbán’s very own election law.
The cause is not just gerrymandering, but the hugely punitive electoral law for the loser and for small parties. (In this environment, it may be look foolish to even consider the possibility of a supermajority for the opposition – but we will do it nonetheless. Thinking has never hurt anyone.)
If a new Orbán supermajority materializes it would be unlikely to have the same legitimacy as his pervious ones, especially after the suspicious elections of 2018.
For the first time since he came back to power there is a united opposition and if they get that much less than Fidesz, it can’t be explained away easily.
A short recap:
In 2010 Orbán won by a 2/3 supermajority partly because his opponent lost that much. The combination of the fallout from the financial crisis and general incompetence, corruption and in-fighting on the then-government’s side gave Orbán a gift that he didn’t fail to use: a supermajority to change the entire legal system. In 2014 he repeated the feat but with an even more Fidesz-friendly electoral system. While he had to ambush the private pension savings of Hungarians to pay off his supporters and buy their unquestioning loyalty after the 2010 victory, he now had the EU to finance his loyalty-building. His power was unquestioned and the opposition was without hope or spirit.
2018 has been different. Despite the even more jilted electoral law and all the unfairness built into the system the opposition had a slight chance. Not for victory but to strip Orbán from his all-important 2/3 supermajority. Having to govern with 50%+ would have forced Orbán to negotiate. To “do politics” again, as Orbánists put it. That is why the 2/3 was the all-important goalpost for Orbán in 2018 and high participation was a really bad sign for him.
Even according to the official explanations it was the least competent and most suspicious election in Hungarian democratic history. After hours of an inexplicable news moratorium and the unexplained decrease of the participation rates after polls closed Orbán emerged to announce his new 2/3 supermajority. Many simply didn’t believe it. Big protests ensued but they were too polite to pose an obstacle to the regime.
Cue 2022. The opposition is now legally united. They were forced to. Their chances look 50-50.
What would happen if Orbán could continue with a supermajority?
A new Orbán supermajority would probably seal the fate of Hungary. It would cement Orbán as the figurehead and the role model for aspiring autocrats in the west. Depending on the international scene it might even lead to a breakup with the EU.
For Orbán, personally, the only use of the EU is its money – having received an avalanche of dumb money over the decade, comparable to the Marshall plan – and using it to buy loyalty. It showed all the sick incentives of international aid. Without the easy money Orbán’s own loyalists would begin to feel disappointed and leave the boat and thus the EU would only be a thorn in Orbán’s side.
Hungary’s EU-membership may thus come under review by Orbán. A spokesman already denied that Hungary would leave but that was to be expected. Even the slightest hint that Orbán might be planning to leave the EU would lead to mass protests and him losing the elections.
The Hungarian public may be overwhelmingly pro-EU, but it doesn’t matter much since there is no legal need for a referendum to leave the EU. On the other hand, Orbán might not be allowed to get rid of Brussels if he is still useful as a member of the EU for Russian and Chinese interests. His international alliances can hardly change at this point without losing face – or worse.
If Orbán wins with yet another supermajority, the economy will also collapse on him, and him only. It would weaken him tremendously. This would be the first time he would have to govern through economic hardship and he can’t postpone the impact of inflation and the weak currency much longer, no matter how aggressive legal means he chooses. Price controls and legal interference in market processes would escalate and accelerate. Shortages would ensue and the discontent might bring people to the street, even Orbán voters.