In their own Words: Dániel Mikecz on why the the 2024 municipal elections are a key test for Hungarian opposition, and will Péter Márki-Zay and Anna Donáth return to lead their respective groupings?
Photo: Dániel Mikecz is a senior political analyst at the liberal-leaning Republikon Institute, based in Budapest. He spoke to journalists of the Hungarian International Press Association on September 19th.
The following is the transcription of part of the Q&A session. Since this meeting, Péter Márki-Zay has become embroiled in a row over supposed illegal funding from the USA.
Note that the Fidesz government has brought forward the municipal elections (scheduled for October 2024) to take place on the same date as the elections for the European Parliament (EP), in May of that year, ostensibly to save public money.
Kester Eddy: You mentioned Péter Márki-Zay [the opposition prime ministerial candidate in last April's elections]: do you think he has a way back? It was an incredible failure in April, relatively, he didn't even win his own parliamentary seat. Also, recently, he said something about [former Prime Minister Ferenc] Gyurcsány, that he was an illegitimate opposition leader. How can he say this, and then have unity in the opposition? Like it or not, Gyurcsány's party, the Democratic Coalition (DK) is the leading opposition grouping?
It seems to me there is almost no way back for PMZ [in a united opposition]. What do you think?
Dániel Mikecz: Márki-Zay has a real organisation, this MMM, Everybody's Hungary Movement. So, there is a real organisation, though I'm not aware of how many activists they have. But on Saturday, I was at a discussion organised by LMP [Politics Can Be Different, greens], and there was someone from the youth organisation of the MMM.
Márki-Zay was also active in the summer protests [over the KATA tax law], so I think he might reactivate himself. It could happen if he sees there is a public demand for this, or if he thinks that the opposition, that they have this lack of credibility.
But I'm not sure if it's possible for him, yeah, to get back to Hungarian politics. I don't think that a lot of opposition voters would deem him as a kind of saviour in this situation.
It's also very important that between the two rounds of the primary elections, there were some 170,000 voters who didn't participate in the second round, so, there are a lot of opposition voters who didn't vote for him.
I think it's not really possible in Hungarian politics to be the leader of the [largely] left-wing opposition as a conservative, right-wing politician. I think it was an important factor for many voters. And at some points, Márki-Zay wanted to be more right-wing than Viktor Orbán. He claimed that there are a lot of migrants in Hungary, and that the government is not really strict when it comes to migration, So that did not work for a lot of opposition voters.
Kester Eddy: So what are the chances of the opposition forming a common grouping for the general elections in 2026?
DM: It depends on 2024. I think that a lot of people would think that it's rock bottom for the opposition [right now], but there are even lower [possibilities]. The situation could be even worse for the opposition, and that might happen if they really lose districts and cities in the 2024 [municipal elections].
If so, the opposition voters are going to be very, very disappointed. And that could mean that in [the general election in] 2026, Fidesz could get their fifth super majority.
Very probably, it might be better for the opposition if Momentum and the DK could make a deal. I don't know, say the DK could make an agreement with the Socialists, so they don't have two [competing centre-left] candidates at the municipal election.
The European parliamentary elections might also be good for Momentum and the DK,
because they have this pro-European agenda, and during the EP election, the turnout is higher in bigger cities than in smaller settlements, so it might also be better for the opposition.
At the same time, during the municipal elections, the turnout is higher in smaller settlements than in bigger cities.
So, it won't necessarily happen that the opposition loses a lot of positions - if they are smart enough - but, for that they need some planning, and it's also important to have trust between the opposition parties. But now I don't see this trust.
It would also be important for Momentum to have competent leadership. They have not had much luck with their leaders. They have clear electoral support, they are attractive for the urban, younger electorate, but there are some leadership issues.
For example, [Momentum President] Ferenc Gelencsér, maybe you've heard about it. He used this one-word slogan on facebook, the slogan from the Fascist parties of the 1940s. It was like 'sustained' – you sustain yourself.
Journalist: In Hungarian?
DM: Kitartás. [Perseverance.]
Kester Eddy: The Arrow Cross [Hungarian Nazi party] used this?
DM: Yeah, the Arrow Cross. If you are a politician in this country, you can't use slogans like this. It's just basic knowledge, you don't have to be a history professor to know this. It was a real [faux pas] for Momentum. I think this is why there are some leadership issues.
I've also heard some gossip that he hasn't got many allies in the party. So, I think Anna Donáth might come back. Yes, she's having a baby now, but she's still in the European Parliament.
[Donáth is a former Momentum president. See Post of February 18th, 2022.]
Ferenc Gelencsér also states that he's a former Fidesz voter. I can't believe this can work.
How do you think you can convince non-Fidesz voters that you should vote for me, because I was a Fidesz voter earlier, and I'm right wing. So I don't think this would work. Anna Donáth is more left wing.
Journalist: Left or liberal?
She is liberal, but she's more left-liberal than Gelencsér. I don't know if it's really going to happen, but now she seems like a possible competent leader. She's also active, I've heard from Momentum gossip.
Audience Qn: Do you think either Fidesz or Mi Hazánk would start an anti-EU campaign this autumn?
DM: A substantial majority of the Hungarian population supports EU membership of the country. Even 81% of Fidesz voters would vote for EU membership at a referendum. So, that's very clear, you can see this from all the Eurobarometer data.
This is why the Orbán govermentt never says 'leave the EU', but 'the EU should be changed', because they don't represent the people, and the whole EU, they are serving the interests of globalists, and not the interests of the nation states.
For me, this is why it was very surprising to read that in Kötcse [an annual Fidesz 'picnic' each September], the prime minister said … yeah, he'd already said in Tusványos [gathering in Romania] that by 2030, the EU would collapse.
But at Kötcse, he also [implied] that if that happens, and if the country is going to pay more into the EU budget than it gets back, then it would make sense to leave the EU.
For me, this was very surprising because of the support by the population of the country's EU membership.
They might try to change the public's attitude when it comes to the EU, but they've been doing it since 2015. This is why the government talks about 'Brussels': they say we should stop Brussels, not the EU, because the EU is something positive for Hungarians, while Brussels is a very bureaucratic something [image].
But, I'm not sure if they can achieve this, changing the public's attitude about EU membership. I think it's much harder because it's not just a narrow policy field, the EU membership, but it's also a very clear symbol that the country is part of Europe and the west. This is a very basic issue in modern Hungarian politics, where do we belong?
Are we a part of the west or not?
I think it's an important issue, being in the west, not just for opposition voters, but also for many Fidesz voters.
But, we can see some other sides, there is also this tradition of speaking about the end of the west, not just in Hungary, but this is a topos that the west has lost its significance. Viktor Orbán is always talking about the end of the west, and China is on the rise, and Russia and so on. He even talked about this in 2014, when he talked about illiberal democracy.
So, very probably for the Fidesz voters, they might sympathise with the thought that eastern-central Europe is going to be stronger than the west, but I still believe that the majority of Hungarian society wouldn't support leaving the EU, even in 2030.