Hungary’s political opposition is in ruins, says Political Capital election expert Róbert László

September 29, 2016

Political Capital election expert Róbert László expects over 95 percent of voters participating in Sunday’s referendum will say “No” to the question of whether the EU should mandate the settlement of migrants in Hungary without the consent of parliament.  He says the big question is whether enough valid votes will be cast for the referendum to be valid, but thinks that so long as 3 million “No” votes are cast, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán will be able to claim a political victory.

With regard to concerns that Fidesz might resort to stuffing ballot boxes or swapping out “Yes” or invalid ballots for “No” ones, László says all elections involve a certain amount of fraud. “The only question is whether the scale of it can influence the outcome of the election or not,” he says, pointing out that unlike in previous national elections, opposition parties have not appointed delegates to over 60 percent of the 10,000-plus electoral committees responsible for tallying up Sunday’s vote.

This is not the failure of electoral law or the fault of Fidesz, says László, but rather “testimony” to the fact that Hungary’s political opposition “is in ruins.”

“The symptom is the fact that they could only delegate 4000 people to 10,000 polling stations,” he says.

While acknowledging that elected committee members are generally municipal employees, some of whom depend on the mayor, László is not concerned that Fidesz will try to steal the referendum by stuffing ballot boxes or falsifying electoral returns.

“My personal opinion is that we should trust an institution that has not changed for the past 26 years.”

His one concern has to do with the validity of absentee ballots cast by mail. Observing that this is the first time Hungarians permanently residing abroad can vote in a referendum, László says the number registered to do so has increased from 200,000 in 2014 to 300,000, and it is impossible to verify whether the vote is actually cast by the individual in question.

He notes that of the roughly 200,000 ballots cast by Hungarians residing abroad in the 2014 election, only 125,000 were valid.  Of those, over 95 percent were for Fidesz, and the election expert expects Sunday’s referendum to yield a similar result.  The big question, he says, is whether the requisite 4.2 million Hungarians will actually go to the polls in order for the referendum to be valid.

“This will be the surprise of Sunday night. Nobody knows what will happen. What we can predict as that at least 95 percent will vote no.”

As to the referendum question itself, László says it is not relevant from a legal point of view “because there are no legal consequences.”

From a political point of view,  however, he says that “if less than two million turn out, that can be a huge failure for Fidesz because in 2014 more than 2 million voted for Fidesz”, and “if they cannot mobilize their own voter base, that will be regarded as a failure.”

On the other hand, László believes that 3 million “no” votes would be enough for Orbán to tell Brussels “that the country is behind him,” adding that “polls suggest it is possible that 4.2 million will vote in the referendum” but “it is difficult to forecast accurately.”

The Two-Tailed Dog Party

“Most parliamentary parties were paralyzed by this referendum and could not find a good argument,” says László, pointing out that even radical right-wing Jobbik was unable to make political hay for the simple reason that “Jobbik couldn’t say anything more radical than Fidesz did.”

He says the Two-Tailed Dog Party has been the only party to be really active on this issue.

“They are the political force that seems to be the most dedicated to creating more and more invalid votes to show how stupid the referendum question is.” It was the first time the joke party had called on voters to follow a particular course of action, in this case cast an invalid vote by ticking both the “yes” and “no” boxes.

László goes so far as to speculate that the Two-Tailed Dog Party might be able to run a national slate of candidates in the 2018 elections, although he does not know whether the “party” has such political ambitions.

On the possibility of Orbán arranging for national elections as early as 2017, László says “this is the first time when there are good arguments because this referendum can give him a real boost.”

He says the migrant agenda has been very good for Orbán and Fidesz, returning support for Hungary’s governing party to levels not seen since the 2014 general election.

“Many say the migrant issue will not last until 2018. This is their first argument for bringing elections forward to 2017.” Another reason was that Hungary’s largest opposition party, Jobbik, was not ready to mount an effective challenge.

“(Jobbik chairman) Vona had to fight against the really radical and unpredictable figures in his party,” says László. “At the moment there is no question that Fidesz would win a national election.”

However, the election expert points out that there are risks that go with calling early elections.

“Most voters would ask ‘why?’. Nobody knows how the electorate will react.

“For Orbán it would be a risky act.  He is not the kind of politician who takes risks when he has one and half years left.”