Fidesz is the likely winner, but this time, they have to work for it
Based on the political environment and various party preference polls showing the same trends, Fidesz-KDNP is most likely to win the upcoming general election. They will presumably gain a significant advantage in the next National Assembly, not a minor one. We believe the likelihood of either of these two scenarios of the ruling party’s victory is 70%. The main reason for this is that the ruling party has a substantial structural advantage in the framework of the Orbán regime. All aspects of this political system, such as the electoral system, campaigning resources and the huge discrepancy between the sides in terms of their prevalence in the public discourse, favor the current ruling party. The pro-government information bubble has become hermetically sealed, especially in the more rural electoral districts that are crucial for the election, and there is no indication that the opposition could break through this wall.
Why is the election significant?
For the first time since 2006, the Hungarian general election will be closely contested, PM Viktor Orbán cannot be certain of his victory, although Fidesz still has a good chance of securing the majority of seats.
Fidesz gained the absolute majority of votes in 2010, but in 2014 and 2018, the ruling party gained a two-thirds majority in the National Assembly while more votes were cast on rival parties altogether. The reasons for this were the electoral system tailored to the ruling party’s needs and the incapability of the opposition to cooperate with each other, so votes on their party lists and candidates were fragmented.
In the 2018-2022, multiple events happened that helped establish the prerequisites for the six-party opposition cooperation (e.g., Jobbik’s separation into two; joint protests, mainly against the so-called slave law approved in December 2018; changes in the balance of power in the 2019 EP-election; fielding joint mayoral candidates and their victories in the 2019 municipal elections). This process culminated in the primaries held in 2021, where the electorate could pick their preferred candidates from those offered by the cooperating parties and movements; namely, 106 candidates in single-member constituencies and the joint nominee for prime minister. Independent candidate Péter Márki-Zay was elected for the latter role, as he proved to be able to mobilize numerous passive voters. However, larger parties were not happy about his victory and the moderate campaign efforts suggest that not all opposition actors are committed to winning the elections. At the same time, the vast majority of candidates in single-member constituencies are running respectable campaigns.
The next government’s room for maneuver seems to be smaller than that of any for a long time (maybe even decades) because of the swiftly transforming geopolitical environment that is followed by yet unforeseen economic effects – such as extremely high inflation. This fact might also push some opposition actors towards not trying to deconstruct PM Viktor Orbán’s illiberal political system built in 12 years in this environment, which would prove to be hard even in times of peace.
These points illustrate well that there is a low chance for breaking PM Orbán’s political system in the next few years, but – at least – there is a chance for this to happen for the first time in 12 years.
The main campaign topics
Topics regarding the quality of life are always the most important, at least that is what interests voters the most. Fidesz must have sensed that there is a chance for them to lose the election, so they started distributing funds to the general population on a scale never seen before. The effects of most of these measures have been felt since February by the youth, families, pensioners and law enforcement staff. This is presumably the reason why the popularity of Fidesz improved by the end of February. In contrast, the opposition blames the government’s policies for rising inflation, but the government also gave a popular (albeit unsustainable) answer to that: they limited the highest possible prices of several key food products (e.g., cooking oil) and petrol.
Russia’s war, naturally, emerged as a key topic in the campaign. After the chaotic first few days, Fidesz found the narrative that allowed it to mostly cover up the fact that there had been a cordial relationship between Viktor Orbán and Vladimir Putin for a decade: only Fidesz can ensure that Hungary stays out of the war, while the opposition would send soldiers to Ukraine. Naturally, the basis for such claims is not sound, but the government-controlled media empire is so effective that it could turn attention away from the communication chaos at the beginning. The opposition’s main message is that people will have to decide between the “East and the West” on 3 April, but this is a more complicated message than the ruling party’s question of “war or peace.” The war and quality of living are frequently connected by the ruling party’s communication efforts, which state that sanctions against Russia cannot be paid for by Hungarians, so limits on exports of Russian gas are not supported, as it is needed for low energy prices.
Since the election will be held together with a government-initiated referendum, the question of the LGBTQ community comes up from time to time, but nowhere near as intensively as last summer, when this was the main topic for a long time. Nevertheless, there are numerous billboards with advertisements about the referendum in the countryside (much more than in Budapest), which shows that Fidesz’s electoral base is responsive when it comes up.
Meanwhile, the series of strikes held by pedagogues also became a leading issue, which balances governmental propaganda about the country’s extraordinary development in the past 12 years. Although the teachers are organizing non-partisan demonstrations, opposition parties are supporting them vocally.
The most likely election scenario is that Fidesz wins it with a simple but significant majority (110-132 mandates out of 199 regardless of the number of parties gaining seats in the Assembly). In this case, the Orbán-regime would continue functioning continues in line with its well-known nature. The consolidation of the political system could be ruled out, ideological conflicts, conflicts with the EU, etc. and the war rhetoric would remain key characteristics. Efforts to take over further economic sectors (e.g., retail chains), restrict the public discourse even further, channeling public assets into Fidesz’s sphere of interest, and step up against groups believed to pose a threat to the ruling party (NGOs, universities) would continue.
Similarly to the period between 2015-2018, when Fidesz did not have a parliamentary constitutional majority (two-thirds majority), it would be barely noticeable in the upcoming cycle either, cooperation with the opposition (or a part of it) would only be required in extraordinary situations; it would not hinder governance.
If this scenario is materialized, the opposition cooperation would fall apart, parties would seek to focus on their own political agenda, some parties could potentially cease to exist or merge with each other. However, the opposition-initiated referendum that is expected to be held in summer-autumn 2022 could give new impetus to the opposition: it could give them a reason to strengthen opposition cooperation similarly to the series of protests against the “slave act” in 2018. A valid and successful referendum could even weaken the government – although this is unlikely to happen.
It is also possible that Fidesz can only win the election with a slight majority (100-109 mandates regardless of the number of parties in Parliament). The nature of the regime would then not continue as noted above, but if Fidesz and especially the prime minister assessed the election result as a disappointment or partial loss, it would be more likely to make a mistake and could lose support quickly. In this scenario, the referendum could become even more crucial, it could even turn the tide in public opinion.
It is also possible that the six-party opposition wins the election with a slight majority (100-109 mandates regardless of the number of parties in Parliament). In this case, it would be more likely that the internal tensions within the opposition would become even more poisonous, and they would consequently be unable to gather a parliamentary majority behind most initiatives. As a result, more people would feel like the new government is incapable of governance, which would quickly lead to a snap election. There is a smaller possibility for the new government even becoming stronger if the opposition parties and Péter Márki-Zay were up to the task, took decisive steps to reveal corruption cases, and Fidesz and its entourage realized that PM Orbán was actually beaten as the results of his 12 years in government were being deconstructed. Therefore, the Orbán loyalists believed to be entrenched for years would start gravitating towards those in power. The latter would be a more likely scenario in the off chance that the opposition won 110-132 mandates in the national assembly.
It is also possible that neither of the large blocs gain a majority in the Assembly and they would require the support of one of the smaller forces; namely, the far-right Our Homeland Movement and the former “joke” party, the Two-Tailed Dog Party. If Fidesz and the far-right Mi Hazánk party had a majority together, PM Viktor Orbán would do everything in his power to slice off parts of Mi Hazánk to ensure one-party governance, as he is no longer used to having to negotiate with another side before taking decisions. An opposition-Two-Tailed Dog Party (MKKP, which started as a “joke” party) government would be even more unstable than that of “only” the six main opposition parties.
There is still a theoretical chance of Fidesz winning the election and gaining a two-thirds majority, but this is highly unlikely. Even if the opposition took only 25 single-member constituencies out of the 106, it would become impossible for Fidesz to gain a two-thirds majority, and the opposition has at the very least this many constituencies in its pocket. Regardless, there could be some extraordinary situation that might cause a complete collapse for the opposition, leading to a Fidesz supermajority.
Closely contested election on unfair grounds
This is going to be the first closely contested Hungarian general election for a long time, and this will no doubt mobilize numerous voters. The last days of the campaign will be about mobilization: the sides are competing in how many of their own supporters they can take to the voting booths, as the chance for winning over new voters is very slim at this time. Fidesz has been building its mobilization machine for over the past decade. The ruling party has statistics on their voters in all settlements and local Fidesz-affiliated mayors, local representatives and activists have targets to meet in their own settlements. This machine is never discussed publicly but is worth more than public campaign messages. The result of the election will be influenced significantly by whether the opposition – building on the experiences of the primaries, among others – can rival the ruling party in this regard in the last few days of the campaign.
In the frameworks of the Hungarian electoral system, single-member constituencies are an important part of the mobilization battle. There might be differences across constituencies on both sides. The result will be defined by how visible a candidate is in a single-member constituency, how many party activists are on the streets and how many doors they knock on in the last few weeks. Since the opposition is in a substantially worse position than the ruling party in terms of organizational resources, the media environment and the central campaign’s strength, they can mainly put their hopes in the activity of their candidates. In the majority of the 106 constituencies, the opposition candidates have had a campaign for the primaries already, they did only not show up physically in their single-member districts a few weeks before the election, and this is a key difference compared to 2014 and 2018, when they were virtually unseen, except for a few weeks preceding the elections.
The OSCE has recently published an interim report on the Hungarian elections, which highlights that “there is systemic political bias” towards the ruling parties in public service media and notes that the opposition parties are concerned by the unfair distribution of billboard places.
They also note that there are no regulations on campaign spending by “non-party actors” and these play a considerable role in the campaign. Moreover, there are no limits on campaign spending concerning the referendum. Thus, campaign spending limits can easily be avoided via campaigns by civil society organizations – and GONGOs have used this method in the past, too.
Overall, Hungary will welcome back actual electoral competition once again, but certainly not on fair grounds.
"Election Monitoring in Hungary and its Diaspora" research is conducted with the support of the International Republican Institute's Beacon Project. It is conducted in Hungary and select countries with a significant Hungarian diaspora: Romania, Serbia, Slovakia and Ukraine.
This report has been prepared with support from IRI's Beacon Project. The opinions expressed are solely those of the authors and do not reflect those of IRI.
 BBC.com. (2018). Hungary president signs controversial ‘slave law’. Accessed: 25 March 2022. Available: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-46637216
 András Jámbor. (2019). Transforming the opposition in Hungary after the EP elections. Accessed: 25 March 2022. Available: https://cz.boell.org/en/2019/07/03/transforming-opposition-hungary-after-ep-elections
 Political Capital. (2019). Lifting the veil of Fidesz’s invincibility. Accessed: 25 March 2022. Available: https://www.politicalcapital.hu/pc-admin/source/documents/fes_pc_valasztasok_2019_eng.pdf
 OSCE. (2022). Interim Report: 24 February 2022 – 15 March 2022. Accessed: 25 March 2022. Available: https://www.osce.org/files/f/documents/8/e/514318_0.pdf