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Péter Magyar's start-up party likely to prove more dangerous to opposition than Fidesz, despite his Fidesz roots

Think tank leader András Bíró-Nagy assesses the impact of Péter Magyar, disenchanted former Fidesz insider and now new kid on the Hungarian political block.

András Bíró-Nagy is Director and owner of Policy Solutions, a left-leaning Budapest political think tank. Photo: Gergely Túry / HVG


Introduction: András Bíró-Nagy spoke to the Hungarian International Press Association on 25th March. The following is an edited transcription of some of his address and answers. It should be noted that since then, support for Péter Magyar has, if anything grown, with Republikon Institute putting it at 11% of the total electorate in its latest opinion poll.

Péter Magyar took over the Tisza - Respect and Freedom Party, an existing, but almost unknown registered political party, earlier this week, in order to take part in the European Parliamentary and municipal elections, both to take place on Sunday, 9th June in Hungary.


András Bíró-Nagy: "The first three months of this year has been really one of the most difficult periods for Viktor Orbán since he's been back in power from 2010. I'm not saying this only because Fidesz has lost two of their most prominent politicians, the President of Hungary, Katalin Novák, and the former Justice Minister, Judit Varga, but also because Fidesz has been on the defensive for an unexpectedly long time. This is not something that we are used to in a campaign period, I have to tell you, based on our experience of the last 14 years.


"So, one of the reasons why I think Viktor Orbán was right when he said in his State of Hungary address in February that the beginning of the year “has been a nightmare” - I'm quoting him here. I think he said this because Fidesz had to completely rethink the campaign and how to do the campaign in the remaining period, up to June.


"I'm pretty sure that the original plan was that Fidesz would be on the offensive, as always, focusing mostly on 'defending Hungary's sovereignty' and accusing all parties of the opposition of being 'traitors' and part of the so-called 'dollar left' and I'm pretty sure also that they wanted to concentrate on 'fighting Brussels' and defending 'sovereignty', not only from the Hungarian opposition, but also from the European Union. The EP elections make it timely to do such kind of campaigns.


"But then the clemency scandal, or pardoning scandal, how do you call it Kester?"


Kester Eddy: "Either. Or we could call it “pardongate”!"


ABN: "That's a good expression! Then the pardongate came in early February, and I think that Fidesz hasn't really found the way out of this crisis.


"Of course, the pardoning scandal part of it is over, but I think that we are still living in the phase which has been characterised by this scandal, because the appearance of Péter Magyar, the ex-husband of former justice minister Judit Varga. I consider his appearance as a continuation of the same crisis which erupted in early February.


"Péter Magyar appeared a day after the resignation of his former wife, and from then on he has tried to capitalise on the sentiments and on the government criticism, that has been heavier since then.


"And I think that he's been pretty successful in this … but the point is that Fidesz has been on the defensive since then and we haven't seen anything of the original strategy and tactics, so sovereignty has been mostly off the table for the past two months, and this is surely unexpected … What do I expect from the next 2-3 months? I think it's pretty likely that in June, Fidesz will reach their lowest ever vote share in a European election since they've been back in power.


"The reason why I say this is because Fidesz has always been over performing at European elections compared to national elections ... I would say that if the average of the polls are right, what we should expect is a worse result that what Fidesz had at the 2022 national elections, which is, by the way, lower than what they score at the European elections …

 

"I think if everything [ie party support] stays as now, and we are only two months away from the elections, I think we can pretty confidently say that the most likely scenario is that Fidesz will underperform compared to their previous EP election standards.


"But, and this is a big but, the problem for the opposition is that they are [mostly] running separately. They were running together in 2022, but since then they have not been building anything towards a new, joint campaign. … And the EP election is tricky, because it is proportional, unlike the national elections, and this creates the opportunity for opposition parties to run, to compete, against each other.


"But why am I saying this is a problem? Because, according to the polls, it is quite likely that many of the current opposition parties will not reach the 5% threshold necessary to make it into the European Parliament. According to the estimates of Hungarian public opinion pollsters, of the six parties which participated in the united opposition list in 2022, at least three, possibly even four, of the six parties will not make it to the 5%.


< Editorial Note: Since this, both the Socialist Party and Dialogue-Greens have formed a coalition with the Democratic Coalition, which, though it may not result in any MEP seats for the two smaller parties, will at least mean they are present in the elections. And their votes will not be 'lost' for being below the 5% threshold.>


ABN "Since 2022, there have been other opposition parties that have come into existence … If we add these smaller parties to the other existing six players, then it's already 10 parties, and we haven't even mentioned the Hungarian Two-tailed Dog Party, an anti-establishment, satirical party, [nor] Our Homeland, which has taken the place of the original place of Jobbik in the Hungarian political spectrum.


"So, altogether we are talking about at least 12 potential opposition parties running at the European elections. This an extremely fragmented scene competing against the still strong Fidesz. As I told you, I expect them to perform relatively weakly compared to their previous standards, but if the opposition is made up of 12 parties, then what I can also guarantee is that Fidesz will surely be the winner of the EP elections, the only question is, the margin of the win against the opposition.


"And why the fragmented state of opposition favours Fidesz is also because if many of these 12 parties don't reach the 5% threshold, and honestly, I think the majority of them will not reach the 5%, then it means it is pretty likely that the Hungarian opposition will lose a double-digit vote share of the total population which will not result in any parliamentary seats.


"So, this means it's pretty likely that at least 10% of the opposition votes will be lost. All of these votes will be opposition votes, and given the fact that those which make it to the 5% then will benefit from this loss because, of course, they will get a bigger share of the seats than their vote share. … So my expectation is that Fidesz will underperform in terms of vote share, but it's not at all sure that they will also under perform in terms of parliamentary seats.

April 20 is the official starting date of the campaign, and it's the date of the start when the political parties have to start collecting signatures from the voters for the national party list.


"The European elections are the easiest elections to run for a political party. The reason is that it's only 20,000 signatures from voters that is necessary to launch your party list for the European election.


"For the European elections, if, for example, you are the Two-tailed Dog Party, you collect 20,000 signatures in Budapest and then, that's it! You have the list. For the national elections, to have 71 candidates across the country, it requires a much bigger effort.


"So, the hurdles are pretty low this time, so I expect most of these 12 players to be able to run with a party list, but, the official line up for the elections will only be known after two weeks of collecting signatures, so, I would say around 5th-10th of May, we will know who will really be running at the EP elections.


But on the 20th April, we will already know who are the potential candidates, I mean in terms of party lists who are starting to collect the signatures.


Question: On where Péter Magyar's voters are likely to come from?


ABN – "A poll by Median [has already] shown that the potential voters for Magyar are to a larger extent from the opposition rather than so-called disillusioned Fidesz voters


"And this is another reason why I think that the existence or the appearance of the ex-husband of Judit Varga is an even more existential threat to several opposition parties who are standing at around 5%.


"I think he's a real danger to Momentum, also the Two-tailed Dog Party, … I'm talking more about those who position themselves around the centre of Hungarian politics.


"I would also say LMP, the green party, who have started to criticise the opposition maybe even more than Fidesz recently, and LMP is running now with the candidate Dávid Vitézy [chief executive of Budapest Transport under the Fidesz-led City Council] in Budapest, [and] for this reason, the established opposition now considers LMP as a traitor of the opposition, and as a political party displaying clearly for Fidesz, at least in the Budapest campaign. It might also have an effect on the EP campaign as well.


"So, I would say that Péter Magyar's appearance is more dangerous for the opposition, and especially for Momentum, who also want to appeal to the opposition voters by heavily attacking DK and Ferenc Gyurcsány … But now we have too many political forces appealing to the same non-Gyurcsány opposition voters, and I think that Péter Magyar is clearly appealing to this non-Gyurcsány sector of the opposition, and that he is clearly less harmful towards Fidesz voters."


Kester Eddy: Hasn't Péter Magyar alsready said he believes in the conservative-Fidesz model, without the corruption?


ABN "Yes, that causes a limitation for him in terms of potentially reaching out to opposition voters, because everybody knows that this is a Fidesz guy. He doesn't hide that on several issues, he doesn't really have problems with what Fidesz is doing.


"For example, on the European Union, what we've heard from Péter Magyar so far is not very far from where Fidesz stands … He's trying to be an opposition politician nowadays, but if you listen to his speeches carefully, in terms of defending Hungarian sovereignty and in terms of what kind of approach to have with the EU, he's not very far from the original Judit Varga position.



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