In light of the results of the Turkish elections on 14 and 28 May 2023, which were won by the incumbent, and in view of the forthcoming European Parliamentary elections in 2024 and the Hungarian municipal elections to be held at the same time, it is worth summarizing the main reasons leading to the fact that on 3 April 2022, the Fidesz party won a two-thirds parliamentary majority for the fourth time in a row. Fidesz received 54.1 percent of the vote, and the United for Hungary Opposition Alliance received 34.5 percent, which can be considered a great feat for the opposition given the enormous financial and institutional predominance of Fidesz, its systemic violation of EU and national legislation, and last but not least, the colossal support provided to Fidesz by the European Commission and several EU Member States, including those with the biggest economies in the EU.
The longterm study by American researchers “Big Money Drove the Congressional Elections—Again” has proved that in recent decades, there has been an almost linear positive correlation between the money spent on election campaigns by candidates for the US Congress and the number of votes cast for a candidate. If the same correlation had applied in Hungary, Fidesz would have received 99 percent of the vote and the United Opposition less than one percent.
The overwhelming majority of the Hungarian media is in government hands or run by friends of the government and only praise the government while vilifying the parties and politicians of the opposition. Moreover, in contrast to the independent media, the pro-government media usually communicate uniform, simple messages, and because most people do not spend time diving into the details, these simple, constantly-repeated messages have often become very convincing for them. Fidesz and the government also dominated social media during the campaign and financed that dominance through an enormous amount of public money. Furthermore, even before the election campaign, billboards and posters were put up all over the country with the government’s messages. All of the pro-government media, social media users, and those billboards and posters usually communicated blatant lies. Viktor Orbán has once again proved that the method of Joseph Goebbels does work: “If you tell a big enough lie and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.” The effectiveness of this method is shown by the fact that even one-third of opposition voters believed the big lie that if the opposition parties won they would entangle Hungary in the ongoing war in Ukraine, even though the opposition parties regularly denied this assertion. In this regard, it is also telling that the education level of the population inversely correlated with the success of Fidesz: The higher the proportion of people in an area with no more than a primary education, the more likely they were to vote for Fidesz. The targeted messaging was also greatly enabled by the fact that the government continuously surveyed public opinion on various issues relating to the election campaign – but only Fidesz had access to the results of these surveys.
Political discrimination at its best
These actions of the government violate the Fundamental Law (Constitution) of Hungary, which states that “Hungary shall recognise and protect the freedom and diversity of the press, and shall ensure the conditions for the free dissemination of information necessary for the formation of democratic public opinion.” It also contradicts a provision of the Freedom of Information Act: “With respect to matters falling under their scope of duties, organs performing public duties shall promote and ensure that the general public is promptly provided with accurate information…” It also violates a Decision of the Constitutional Court made in 2008 (which was also cited by the Supreme Court as a justification for one of its decisions in 2018): “The State (...) must remain neutral in the contest between political parties and in the drafting of legislation regulating the conditions of political competition.”
Political discrimination is prohibited by Hungarian law and international conventions. Nevertheless, smear campaigns against independent NGOs which dared to express even the slightest criticism of the government have been going on for years. There has also been fierce discrimination against many individuals who raised concerns about various government measures. The internationally-renowned institute managed by József Ángyán, one of the most respected scientists in Hungary, was liquidated; the charitable association of pastor Gábor Iványi, which provides food, health care, legal assistance, and social work to the nation’s poor and vulnerable, has been deprived of most of its finances – these are just two of the innumerable examples of the merciless vengeance of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán against his critics. An important consequence of this process was that many people who were craving a United Opposition victory did not dare actively help them with their campaign for fear of retaliation at their workplace or elsewhere.
Economic stranglehold of opposition-led localities
The government has also grossly discriminated against local municipalities led by representatives of the opposition, taking away a colossal amount of money from all municipalities and subsequently compensating just those led by Fidesz, but not those led by the opposition. The message was clear: “If you don’t vote for Fidesz, your city, town, village will not receive any funding from the government, and it will even take away what your municipality has now.” The effect of this message was that many voters who had been dissatisfied with the government, but were uncertain whether the opposition would win, voted for Fidesz. This is a perfectly understandable behaviour, as nobody wants the place where he or she lives to be deprived of money to renovate the local kindergarten or school, for example.
However, probably the most important cause of Fidesz’s extraordinary victory has been the economic “success” of the government, made possible by the abundant flow of EU money to Hungary as well as the EU’s decision to relax the strict rules on public deficit and public debt in order to alleviate the consequences of the pandemic. The government has grossly misused these opportunities, disregarding the relevant EU legislation. It significantly increased the budget deficit and public debt – the latter grew from 66 percent of GDP in 2019 to 81 percent in 2020. However, it spent most of the extra resources not on what the EU envisaged, but on additional large subsidies to its own circles, which have continued to spend public money on economically pointless, environmentally destructive investments. (Already in January 2021, the economic news portal hvg.hu reported that of the sum allegedly disbursed for alleviating the negative economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, merely 25 percent was spent for that purpose.) The government also distributed huge handouts in the runup to the election (personal income tax rebates, personal income tax exemption for under-25s, 13th month pension, reduction of excise duty on transport fuel, etc.), which proved to be impossible to sustain after the election. Public money was also used to lavishly finance Fidesz’s election campaign. (Among other matters, this made it possible for at least eight times as many posters promoting Fidesz (and discrediting the opposition) to be put up than posters promoting the United Opposition parties. In addition, Fidesz had large billboards all over the country in places where many people could see them, while the United Opposition’s posters were much smaller and often in less visible places. The extraordinary role of the economic factor in the election has been underlined by the renowned Hungarian financial professional, Viktor Zsiday: Having examined the results of the previous Hungarian parliamentary elections, he demonstrated a strong correlation between the growth of salaries in the period before the elections and the number of voters for the ruling party. On this basis, he forecast that Fidesz would gain 10 per cent more votes than in the last elections (in fact, Fidesz gained just 5 percent more votes.) An opinion poll conducted after the elections also proved that the tax benefits and other subsidies introduced during the months before the elections were a main reason voters cast their ballots for Fidesz. The government has regularly breached a number of other national laws and EU rules, including, among many others, the rules on personal data protection. Opposition candidates have reported some of these breaches to the authorities, but to no avail. This cannot be a surprise, given the fact that the government has appointed persons with highly questionable backgrounds to serve as the Chief Justice and Vice Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Moreover, the Constitutional Court had earlier been filled up with judges loyal to Fidesz, thus creating a judicial rubber stamp for government interests.
The continuous flow of billions of euros of EU taxpayers’ money and the fact that the European Commission and the governments of the countries which are net donors of EU funding have practically disregarded the misuse of EU money, as well as the systemic violation of EU rules by the Hungarian government, has enabled the victory of Fidesz time and time again. This has happened despite the fact that EU funding in such circumstances has already greatly contributed to the dismantling of democracy, failures of the economy, decline of public education, and environmental destruction in Hungary.
This piece is an updated version of the article that originally appeared in Hungarian on merce.hu.