Hungarian political conditions and the lack of real opponents made it possible for Viktor Orban to outgrow the stage of domestic affairs and concentrate on the international arena.
The main difference between Viktor Orban and his domestic opposition is that the prime minister has a firm vision about Hungary’s and Europe’s future. Meanwhile, the opposition has stuck on the idea that Viktor Orban is nothing but a corrupt despot, but they have no coherent alternative or vision that would make them ready to govern. It’s not enough to think in domestic dimensions, Hungary has to be located in the international space too. Viktor Orban has set Hungary off on a road for which the opposition has no fully-fledged concepts.
Who are we? What do we want? What are our interests? Where is our place in the changing world order? What kind of Europe do we want?
Viktor Orban has his own, firm answers to these questions while his domestic opponents are struggling to define themselves to their own supporters.
After the parliamentary elections on April 8, in his inauguration speech on May 10 Viktor Orban said that election result
“encourages and empowers us to prepare our plans not for four years, but for ten years; in fact now we should think forward over a period of twelve years”.
He said “this is a requirement for responsible governance, as the implementation of the European Union’s next financial framework really will extend up until 2030”, adding that he has “always seen the twenty years between 2010 and 2030 as a single period”.
“I know that many will consider this to be incredible, but I believe that by 2030 it is an achievable goal for Hungary to be among the five best countries in the European Union,”
he said, stating that
“after winning a two-thirds majority for the third time in a row, we must commit ourselves to the impossible – because the possible can also be achieved by others”.
The opposition and the government-critical media interpreted Viktor Orban’s words pessimistically, suggesting that he wants to stay in power until 2030, for 12 more years. For the opposition – which was beaten in the April 8 elections and fell on its knees –, this was like a final judgment before the execution, even though this was not the first time Viktor Orban mentioned 2030. If the press reports are correct, the prime minister had set up an “ambitious vision until 2030” long before the elections, at a closed group meeting of the ruling parties in September 2017, according to leaked information. On the other hand, the opposition parties simply staked their all upon the 2018 elections and didn’t think about anything else. This proved not to be enough.
The opposition’s failure has several reasons: the Orban government has changed the electoral system in its own favour, put its hand on the vast majority of the Hungarian media market and has financial resources no opposition party can count with. These are all circumstances that can’t be ignored. A framework which the opposition has been forced into.
But the opposition’s deficiencies can’t simply be portrayed as the government’s responsibility. The biggest weakness of Orban’s opponents is that they can’t see past the prime minister, they were unable to avoid weakening themselves with power machinations even in the last moments of the campaign. The opposition reached the conclusion that Viktor Orban “is a power-hungry, corrupt gangster boss”, who must be ousted and then everything will be fine. The answer to the “what’s next” question remained unclear to the voters, who have chosen security and predictability instead of the insecure unknown.
Their weak image was heaped up by the fact that while Orban had built a coherent political community, the opposition had become fragmented by the wills and interests of several competing parties. This prevented them from agreeing on domestic questions and enabled Orban to outgrow their bickering and step on the higher-level chessboard of the international scene. Of course, for this he needed migration, the impact of which on the voters was not recognised by the left-wing and liberal opposition. They were communicating poorly and inconsequently in this question the whole time, so they had lost their opportunities at the very beginning due to this bad judgment. At an early stage, the right-wing opposition – namely the strongest opposition party, Jobbik – reacted in the firmest way to migration. But then they stepped into Orban’s shadow who took the problem into his own hands, assigned the topic to him, based on the principle that they can’t compete with the government. Later Jobbik made corrections in the topic of migration and tried to throw Orban a right jab, but by then the Hungarian prime minister’s anti-migration stance – fueled by the pro-government media, which smeared the opposition with the accusation of being pro-migration – has become unquestionable both in the domestic and the international arena. On this basis Viktor Orban could build up his whole political vision and image, to which the opposition wasn’t – and still isn’t – able to grow up as a contender.
After the April 8 elections the opposition parties have spectacularly weakened, turned in on themselves and started to look for enemies and scapegoats for the bad results among themselves. They suffer from an identity crisis, separate, ravel, have no vision or narrative on which they can build their political potential. They even lack a charismatic leader who could embody this genuinely and firmly enough to become a strong contender of Viktor Orban.
Judging by the current state of the opposition, the prime minister’s vision until 2030 and his plan to think in 12 years seems more like reality than political wishful thinking. This doesn’t mean that Viktor Orban is infallible and his answers about Hungary’s future are unquestionable. This means that he has answers while the Hungarian opposition doesn’t. Viktor Orban – for the leader of a small country – plays his role on the stage of politics smartly; this is amazing, frightening, daring and dangerous at the same time, but an experience which hasn’t been seen in Hungarian history for a long time.
Photo by MTI
Tamás Nótin, journalist and publicist at Alfahir.hu
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Hungary Journal plans to publish articles by several Hungarian journalists in the future. By the works of our guest authors, we wish to contribute even more to the English-language understanding of Hungarian, or Hungary-related politics, foreign policy.