• Kester Eddy

Ágoston Mráz: Hungary has just been a follower of Germany and Italy in its relationship with Russia

Updated: Mar 30

In Their Own Words: Political Scientist argues all polls indicate Fidesz victory, Hungary merely mimics Germany and Italy on Russia and media air-time is of no significance in politics

Photo: Ágoston Sámuel Mráz, political scientist and founding director of Nézőpont Intézet (Literal translation: Observer or View Point Institute). Courtesy photo.

Ágoston Sámuel Mráz is a political scientist and founding director of Nézőpont Intézet, a Budapest political think tank with good relations to the Fidesz government. He spoke to journalists and diplomats to the Hungarian International Press Association on 23 March.

He began with a summary of how he views the situation at the then 12-day distance from elections on 3 April. There then follows a small selection of many questions and answers.

Ágoston Mráz: I can see that every opinion poll, whether government friendly or critical towards the government, every opinion poll shows a clear advantage for Fidesz. Among the so-called 'active voters', those who are going to participate in the election, it is between a 2 – 8 percentage points [lead].

You know very well that the Hungarian electoral system is based on the districts [ie individual constituencies], and therefore it is not just important whether in the nation-wide party list competition which party is leading, the important [thing] is how these voters are [acting] in the countryside.

Because the opposition voter camp is very much concentrated in the Budapest area, political scientists estimate that at least a 3% advantage in the nation-wide party list is necessary for the opposition to get the majority of the [individual constituencies], and therefore win the election. Currently, we can see the advantage to Fidesz, between 2-8%, [rather than the] 3% advantage for the opposition. Therefore I can say that Fidesz has very good chances.

On the other hand, we have 12 more days before the election, and in modern politics 12 days are long enough to change the minds of the people, as happened three years ago, when ten days before the municipal elections, a huge scandal changed everything, and Fidesz voters became less active and opposition voters more active. Therefore I cannot promise that Fidesz will win this election, I can only say they have a very good chance.

I've already mentioned the war [in Ukraine]. I think that beyond a poor performance on the opposition side, and there are other reasons for this good chance for Fidesz, but beyond that, I think the war itself is important, because Mr Orbán understood pretty fast what Hungarian voters need.


He has the necessary experience for that, he's been a politician for 34 years already,

therefore he has the necessary knowledge about Hungarian society, which is not a romantic, freedom-fighter society - we like to describe ourselves as freedom fighters, but in reality we aren't - and he has [ordered] a lot of polls to understand the current situation, and he understood these polls in a good way, and of course, his experience and knowledge about this society showed in the same direction, which was that this society needs peace and calm, and would like to avoid the war. And therefore Orbán started talking about peace messages and emphasising these messages, and therefore he's got additional support from society in the recent days.

I wouldn't say that these are voters who will vote for Fidesz, this is not the case. His personal popularity rating is around 60% now, and a month ago it was around 50-55%, so this additional support [gained since the onset of the war] is around 5 percentage points.

Two years ago, at the beginning of the Coronavirus crisis, it peaked at 70%, so higher still, but neither during the Coronavirus crisis nor in this situation will these additional voters vote for him. But at least they are not active opposition voters, therefore, currently the situation is that Orban's support helps to de-activate, de-mobilise the opposition voter camp.


A lack of a performance on the opposition side, and a pretty good performance on the government side is changing the mobilisation of Hungarian voters. At the end, it's not the citizens whose opinion on politics who will decide, but those who participate, and therefore the mobilisation is so important in the next few days.


My message therefore is that anything can happen, but Fidesz has much better chances to win this election.


We will talk a lot about the possibility of a two-thirds majority, [but] this is the only thing I can promise you, neither the opposition nor the government will win this election with a two-thirds majority. It's very interesting that the opposition promises it, and the government tries to avoid mention of the two-thirds majority issue at all.


At the end, therefore, my message is that we will have difficult days, and probably a horrible election night, but I think there is a chance for both sides to be happy on election night, because the opposition can say that although they lost the election, Fidesz has not got a two-thirds majority, and Fidesz can be happy because they've got good chances to win.


And if Fidesz no longer has a two-thirds majority, it will be a new period of Hungarian politics. Since 2010, Fidesz has had a two-thirds majority, with a break between 2015-2018, so it's altogether nine years with a two-thirds majority, therefore I saw that without it, it will be a totally new kind of politics.

...


Diplomatic Question: You've mentioned that PM Orbán had quickly adapted his campaigning to the situation in Ukraine, threatening peace and security, and to stay out of the conflict and so on. On the other hand, the opposition has been trying to present the PM as a politician who, with his policies towards Russia and China, has supported the aggression, the Russian aggression.


How effective do you see that? I mean, many supporters of Fidesz are elderly people, living in the countryside, many would remember 56 [and the Hungarian revolution being put down by Moscow]. How effective would you see these tactics of the opposition to frame the Prime Minister as a Putin friend?

Ágoston Mráz: According to the numbers that the polls show us, this campaign does not work. And I would say that the opposition is fighting Mr Orbán of yesterday, and they do not understand that Orbán is flexible enough to adapt himself, and his party to the new situation.


This situation is totally new. At the end of last year, Putin's popularity in Hungary was 44%, if I remember well – it was not published by us – and now it's less than 10%. This means a lot of people have changed their minds, and that's rational as well, that they are no longer a friend of Mr Putin.

This means that if so many people can change their minds on the Mr Putin issue, it is also allowed to Mr Orbán to change his mind.


Officially, he's always emphasised that it's not a political friendship with Mr Putin, but an economic relationship. And with all due respect, Germany had the very same strong economic relations with Russia as Hungary. In a way, Hungary has just been a follower of Germany and Italy in their relationships with Russia.


Diplomat Follow up: I'm only questioning how effective this coalition efforts to frame the issue in this way.


Ágoston Mráz: It was not an accusation by myself, but this is the reason why Hungarians can accept the economic relationship with Russia, because we have our eyes on Germany and Italy, and this is strong evidence that it is a good way if other big member states do the same.

It would be more difficult for Orbán if he was alone with his economic-relationship politics in the EU, but as far as I understand, even yesterday, the German Chancellor said that economic relations are important with Russia, at least energy cooperation.

Journalist Question: Yesterday the OSCE [the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, which is monitoring the election] came out with an interim report which said that the election is severely tilted towards Fidesz. I see this morning the Centre for Fundamental Rights said that the sources are biased and they only talked to left-wing politicians and so on.


But in the report, it cited pretty concrete things like [opposition prime ministerial candidate] Péter Márki-Zay getting only five minutes on public television in four years, the government emails sent to the Coronavirus email lists the government posters on the streets campaigning for Orbán.


These things are pretty hard to deny because people have received and seen these things. What do you think will happen if the opposition says the election get close, but says the election was not fair. What happens?


Ágoston Mráz: Your questions relate to the unknown future, I cannot answer what will happen in such a situation. It depends on the details.


In a case which could happen, there is not too much chance, but theoretically it could happen, that the opposition lists gets more votes, but cannot win in the majority of the constituencies.


In that case it would be difficult to explain what has happened, [but] we know countries where the majority of the popular vote does not mean that the president of a big country is not elected, you know that in 2016, it happened in the US. The electoral system works in Hungary with the weighting on the constituency results.


But, I'm sure – to answer your question – that the opposition, if it loses the elections, will repeat this message published by the OSCE, that the election was not fair.


We have to accept this, [but] my conviction is that it is not the electoral system that the opposition has no chance to win, but it is the lack of their performance.

As indirect evidence [to support this], in 1998, 24 years ago, as Fidesz first time won the election, the system was clearly against Fidesz' chances. Therefore I'm convinced that only the performance is important in politics and the system itself is something to which you have to adapt your strategy.

And if you are credible, capable of governing, you have good faces and you can find your messages, then it does not matter in which system you have to win, and whether you have five or two times five minutes in the public media.


Journalist follow up: So you're saying that it's not a factor?


These are not important factors. Do you really believe that if Péter Márki-Zay ad a second chance to give an interview to the public media, he would change the minds of the opposition voters, or the potential opposition voters? No.


It is a political message to talk about the public media all the time, it doesn't have an impact on the final result of the election. You do not believe what I say, but this is my position.


* NB: For a preview of the election and explanation of how it all works, see:

https://bbj.hu/politics/domestic/elections/voters-to-choose-between-conservative-christian-and-christian-conservative-leaders


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