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Orbán, the Irresistible: How Hungary’s Strongman Won Big Again

On 3 April, Viktor Orbán and his right-wing Fidesz (NI) party won a resounding victory in Hungary’s parliamentary elections. Getting roughly 54% of the party list votes and sweeping 87 of the country’s 109 electoral districts, Orbán was given a mandate to rule with a two-thirds majority for the fourth time in a row. Within the nation’s parliament, Fidesz is set to hold 135 seats out of 199, more comfortably above the 133 threshold needed to change the constitution than during the previous cycle. They can also count on the support of the lone representative of the German minority and, if need be, on the six members of the newly formed, right-wing extremist Mi Hazánk party. They have not been able to get enough votes for a referendum about ‘protecting children from harmful influences’ to be considered valid, but that will hardly upset them.

Orbán defied the odds and polls alike; nobody, including analysts close to Fidesz, anticipated a victory of such wide margins. His triumph is a testament to the power he holds over Hungary, which is beginning to look more and more like his domain, rather than a pluralist democracy. However, it would be amiss to restrict any analysis to such buzzwords often used in international media. Orbán and his vision are indeed popular among Hungarians. In fact, they are a lot more popular than what the opposition offered, and that was clearly visible in this election.

In that vein, this piece offers a brief analysis of the results, a semi-deep dive into the hypothesised causes of Orbán’s victory (and the opposition’s defeat) and a way to understand the event in a broader European context.


Fidesz dominated both the party list vote and the electoral districts. It is true that some quirks of the electoral system, like counting ‘lost votes’ cast for the winner (i.e. the difference between their margin of victory and the amount they would have needed to simply win) in each electoral district toward a party’s list votes, plus giving ethnic Hungarians in neighbouring countries the right to vote made them secure a two-thirds majority again. Nonetheless, Fidesz would have won outright anyway.

The United Opposition (UP) was composed of six opposition parties, united mostly by their opposition of Orbán and Fidesz: Magyar Szocialista Párt (S&D), Demokratikus Koalíció (S&D), Jobbik Magyarországért Mozgalom (NI), Magyarország Zöld Pártja (Greens/EFA), Párbeszéd Magyarországért (Greens/EFA) and Momentum Mozgalom (RE). Running on a single list, they received roughly 35% of party list votes and won 19 electoral districts: 17 of them located in the capital city of Budapest. This was a bitterly disappointing result for the opposition forces that were thought to be neck and neck with Fidesz.

Accordingly, Péter Márki-Zay, UP’s candidate for Prime Minister called the results ‘baffling’ and ‘extremely surprising’ in his concession speech. In front of a worn out crowd, he talked about the system being ‘rigged’ in Fidesz’ favour, with the media landscape and gerrymandering making it nigh impossible for anyone but Viktor Orbán to prevail in an election.

To add insult to injury, right-wing extremist Mi Hazánk defied expectations and gained parliamentary representation. The party was founded after Jobbik splintered and throughout the campaign it weighed in heavily on anti-vaccine sentiments, in addition to usual inflammatory rhetoric about racial and sexual minorities.


Fidesz won big once again, but this time the scale of their victory caught most analysts by surprise. Of course, it would be arrogant to say we know all the reasons why that happened, but there are a few working theories out there that are worth presenting.

First of all, there is what is sometimes called the ‘maths argument’, or the fact that the numbers simply did not add up for the opposition. In a previous piece about the opposition primaries, I presented why cooperation and fielding a single candidate in electoral districts was widely considered to be the only way the opposition was going to defeat Fidesz. People who did not vote for Fidesz were in the majority in previous elections, so it was hypothesised that if they united behind a single candidate, Fidesz would lose.

That theory turned out not to be true. In many areas, especially where Jobbik was strong in the previous two elections, UP received fewer votes than when the parties ran on separate lists. This suggests that a lot of Jobbik voters either opted for Fidesz instead of an alliance that had left-wing parties in it or cast their votes for Mi Hazánk. The numbers seem to confirm this: UP got roughly 1.9 million votes this election, whereas in 2018, left-wing parties received 1.4 million while Jobbik got 1 million votes. It is not surprising that Orbán reflected on this in his victory speech: he imperiously stated that ‘they tried to defeat us running separately; they tried running in half of an alliance and finally, they tried running together: they failed every single time’.

The second possible theory is actually a combination of two intertwining phenomena. The war in Ukraine upended both campaigns: on the one hand, Fidesz’ carefully crafted message in which they claimed that the opposition was dominated by widely unpopular ex-prime minister Ferenc Gyurcsány, was suddenly taken to the sidelines. On the other hand, the opposition had already struggled to construct a coherent narrative before February, so the war presented an opportunity for them: connect Orbán to Putin, emphasise his relationship with a dictator widely condemned, frame the election as a choice between the West and the East, and then reap the rewards.

This ray of hope did not come true either. When Márki-Zay blamed the country’s media landscape for his loss, he had plenty of reasons to do so. The heavily government-friendly TV channels and regional newspapers amplified an unfortunate choice of words in an interview where he said he would send weapons to Ukraine. The rest of the sentence, however, was often missing; he said that all of this would happen under the aegis of NATO and only with full cooperation of the alliance that Hungary is part of. Fidesz consequently accused the opposition of being warmongers, and vowed to not let the country be dragged into war. That message resonated greatly with voters frightened of that prospect, all the while conservative influencers spammed digital spaces with Russian talking points about how the United States and Ukraine were ultimately responsible for the war. In the end, the innate desire for security may have pushed Fidesz over the line for another two-thirds majority.


Where does this election leave Hungary? Well, that question is not too difficult to answer: it will most likely be ‘more of the same’. Fidesz will continue to dominate domestic politics while the opposition parties will do a lot of soul-searching. They will have a particularly hard time coming up with ideas on how to connect to less educated voters in the countryside, a demographic group they have lost ground with immensely. Orbán’s grip on power will remain unquestioned, and unless the underlying macroeconomic conditions radically worsen, he is on course to shape the country even more to his liking.

It is perhaps more interesting to ponder what this election means for the European Union. Orbán is well known for his anti-Brussels, sovereignty-focused rhetoric; he is one of the staunchest members of the populist right that has risen to such great heights in the last decade. Although that same populist right has suffered some setbacks recently, most notably in France and Slovenia, its grip on Europe should not be underestimated. With Merkel gone, Orbán is now the most senior head of government in the EU, too: a testament to his political savvy and longevity. All of that means that whether Europe likes it or not, Orbán is here to stay, and he needs to be bargained with.

And what about Ukraine? Hungary has not seen eye-to-eye lately with Poland, its greatest ally in the fight against the Brussels bureaucrats. The division comes from their stances toward the Ukrainian conflict, in which Poland has taken a leading role while Hungary has displayed what is perhaps the most Russia-friendly approach in the EU. Currently, Orbán has no real allies to enforce some sort of appeasement politics toward Russia and vice versa, he can hardly veto every measure that helps Ukraine. All that can change though; all Europe needs is one electoral surprise, such as a potential right-wing victory in Italy next year,  and its much admired unity could be gone in an instant.