Recent Hungarian by-elections

I assume most readers want me to say something about the Putin visit, but I think it’s better to postpone writing anything more on that subject until after the meeting itself. Instead, I’ll spend some time on another “hot topic,” the extreme-right Jobbik party and recent election results.

According to Ipsos, Jobbik has gained considerable strength since the beginning of 2014. And since October 2014 its rise has accelerated: it gained another 4%. At the same time Fidesz lost about 12% of its voters. Most of the disenchanted Fidesz voters moved over to the large undecided bloc. With the exception of the Demokratikus Koalíció, parties of the democratic opposition seem to be unable to capture the voters’ imagination.

The fear of a Jobbik resurgence was reinforced by the party’s success at the municipal elections on October 12, 2014 when they captured fourteen mayoralty positions as opposed to the three they won in 2010. Most of the towns Jobbik won were small and insignificant on the electoral map, with two exceptions. One was Ózd, near Miskolc, where the Jobbik candidate won over the incumbent Fidesz mayor by a margin of 66 votes. The Fidesz leadership, with the blessing of the Debrecen Appellate Court, decided to contest the result. It was a big mistake. The citizens of Ózd were outraged and decided to show their dissatisfaction with the “arrogant, condescending and corrupt” local Fidesz leadership. While in October only 10,214 people voted, for the second round 15,982 showed up. Jobbik’s candidate in October received 4,214 votes. In November he got 10,299 votes. The DK-MSZP candidate in October received 2,238 votes, in November only 520. Most local citizens voted for the Jobbik candidate not because they were committed Jobbik supporters but because they were convinced that he was the only person who had a chance of unseating the Fidesz incumbent.

The situation was different in Tapolca, which is located not in the underdeveloped area of Hungary where Jobbik has traditionally been strong but in the relatively affluent Transdanubia. Between 2010 and 2014 the Fidesz government had been generous to the town and funded a lot of improvements. So, even Jobbik supporters were stunned when it turned out that the Jobbik candidate, Zoltán Dobó, had unseated the incumbent Fidesz mayor in the 2014 municipal election. The margin was small, 146 votes, but the win was significant. It indicated, at least at first blush, that Jobbik was extending its influence into the better-off regions of the country. Reporters talking with locals, however, found out that some of the people who voted for Dobó didn’t know he was a member of Jobbik.

So, what happened? It seems that the Fidesz mayor didn’t keep his finger on the pulse of the electorate. He shut himself off from the voters. By contrast, Dobó, a council member since 2010, kept a high profile. And then there was a local affair that stirred up deep sentiments: the fate of Tapolca’s little hospital, which the government wanted to either close or strip of most of its functions. The local Fidesz leadership naturally supported the government’s decision–until it was far too late. By that time Zoltán Dobó and Lajos Rig, another Jobbik city father, had taken over the fight for the local hospital. Apparently, that was the main reason for Dobó’s success at the polls. The town itself, which has been in Fidesz hands since 1998, still has a predominantly Fidesz city council. On the eleven-member city council Jobbik won only four seats.

Mezőkövesd is another interesting case. Two candidates for a seat on the city council received exactly the same number of votes. If I wanted to be charitable I would call János Kötél, the Jobbik candidate, a man of limited abilities who is also a racist. For instance, a day before the repeated election a journalist for Index discovered that on Facebook Kötél had called the Roma “the biological weapon of Jews.” Yet he gained supporters between the two elections and ultimately prevailed. Were the voters endorsing his views? Most likely not. I suspect that the voters decided to gang up against the Fidesz candidate the second time around. The Mezőkövesd case reminds me of Ózd. The slogan seems to be “anyone but the incumbent Fidesz guys.”

All in all, since the local elections held on October 12 not one Fidesz candidate has managed to win a by-election. And now it looks as if Fidesz might even lose the Veszprém and Tapolca parliamentary by-elections, which must be held because of Tibor Navracsics’s departure to Brussels and the death of Jenő Lasztovicza, a member of parliament for the Tapolca district. If either of these two by-elections is lost, Fidesz will no longer have a two-thirds majority. How serious a blow that would be to Fidesz is a matter of debate. Some commentators claim that the lack of a super majority would make no difference because there would always be some people in Jobbik who would be glad to vote with Fidesz-KDNP. Others claim that the lack of a two-thirds majority would prevent Fidesz from transforming the present parliamentary system into a powerful presidential one, with Orbán at the helm. In either case, a Fidesz defeat in one or both of these districts would give an immediate boost to the democratic opposition and further damage the governing party.

Tibor Navracsics’s seat in and around the city of Veszprém will be decided on February 22, while voting in Jenő Lasztovicz’s district in Tapolca and environs will take place on April 19.

Source: Index / Photo Orsi Ajpek

Source: Index / Photo Orsi Ajpek

A few words about the election in Navracsics’s district. Veszprém’s first district traditionally votes Fidesz. At the last national election Navracsics beat the MSZP candidate by 20% (47% to 27%), with the Jobbik candidate receiving 16%. After a lot of hesitation, Fidesz decided to nominate Lajos Némedi, the deputy mayor of Veszprém. About a week ago a secret opinion poll was taken, with surprising results. Zoltán Kész, an independent candidate supported by all the democratic parties except LMP, is doing extremely well. In fact, he is leading in the city of Veszprém, though trailing in the villages. As it now stands, Némedi has 43%, Kész 37%, Jobbik 11%, and LMP 4%. Jobbik seems to have lost voters since last April. The poll showed that the majority of the people think that the country is moving in the wrong direction (61%). Left-leaning voters are solidly behind Kész. Even 6% of Fidesz voters plan to switch their votes, and 31% of LMP voters say they will opt for Kész. Kész has a slight lead even among younger voters. Voters with only an eighth-grade education prefer Némedi (64% to 25%), but among university graduates it is 49% to 28% in Kész’s favor. In this latter group only 2% would vote for Jobbik.

In the last few days Fidesz changed the campaign slogan. Earlier their orange-colored posters read “Trust Fidesz!” but it was decided not to advertise Fidesz too much. Now the poster reads: “Trust Némedi!” Meanwhile, the anti-Kész campaign is in full swing, and  Fidesz is promising that fabulous government projects will be built in Veszprém if the district votes for Fidesz. We’ll see whether the voters of Veszprém take the bait.

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63 comments

  1. @Hahn

    We thought that the right-wing thought until now that Russia’s “liberation” was an occupation sold by the communists as liberation, with Soviet-Asian soldiers shouting davai csaszi (present me your watch), raping women, taking people to a malenkij robot (for forced labour at the gulags), getting quartered at private houses etc. (all undoubtedly true).

    But now you say Orban suddenly says, sorry, the Russians were liberators after all? Why don’t we celebrate April 4 again as we did under socialism?

    I guess in 1956 the Russians liberated us again from under what exactly?

  2. @be — are you Orban’s spin doctor trying to spread the idea that Orban became a good boy? And look there is evidence for that.

    That the Americans made a good deal with Orban because he has “changed”? Look, he traveled to Kiev (and so what?) so he’s a changed man, he must now thinks that the West isn’t decadent, and weak, and hopeless.

    You’re ridiculous. Orban, even if he had wanted to, couldn’t have been more servile to Putin yesterday.

    Orban will not change, anybody who believes this is a complete amateur, although I can very well imagine that naive American bureaucrats would suck that. Westerners are hopeless suckers, always wanting to believe that things are better than they are.

    Orban is making billions through MET courtesy of Putin and will make many more billions via Paks 2. He just acquired several construction companies. How stupid someone must be to believe that Orban and his closest associates, while remaining on the payroll of Putin, will change? He is pushing for the new South Stream for starters, just as we said, he will not give up that he will agree with Serbia, Macedonia and Greece to builds the pipeline, he literally wants to bind Hungary to Russia anywhichway he can.

  3. Funny. Everybody’s favorite “independent” conservative blog, mandiner.hu might have a new “investor” (ie. reliable person fronting for rich person not wanting to appear as an owner), Andras Tombor. For the uninitiated the comments at mandiner are infamously crazy, antisemitic, antiroma, reminescent of kuruc.info, so its a pretty controversial site actually (and many of its editors work or worked for Fidesz).

    Tombor was called an intelligence officer by Peter Uj of 444.hu and Tombor’s CV contains info which implies that, and for some years, while still very young he was Orban’s personal adviser on foreign relations. Also infamously he was heavily involved in the UD Zrt. story, in which intelligence officers (many from pre-1990 era) were trying to take over MDF.

    http://cink.hu/beszallhat-a-mandinerbe-az-ud-zrt-ugy-egyik-bizarr-sze-1686518120

  4. News for those of you who want us to believe Orban was “cold” to Putin: Nobody is buying it. People were suspicious before, with the Paks deal and other strange Russian involvement in Hungary. It has gotten worse, now. Orban is seen as a traitor to NATO.
    http://finance.yahoo.com/news/eu-nato-member-just-bolstered-141854286.html
    I don’t give a damn how Hungarian spin doctors want us to view the Hungarian government, and I certainly do not care how it plays in Hungary. This is a matter of national security for all NATO members.
    Get these SOBs out of the information loop!

  5. The US – we all know from Edward Snowden – almost certainly has the recorded calls of fideszniks, oligarchs, Strohmen (fronts), the Swiss-based MET people. Of course, one would assume, so do the Russians and others.

    Why doesn’t anybody make some of those calls public? I know it would be unusual, but as they say extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures. Orban is a traitor to NATO and the EU, would these communities just sit around and continue to do nothing? Probably so.

    Orban is selling Hungary to Russia.

    His entire posse (most of them acting on behalf of Orban himself) from Garancsi to Hernadi to Benjamin Lakatos to Sandor Csanyi live off money made possible by the Russians (and what they can siphon off from the EU) and Orban is doing absolutely everything he can to advance Putin’s agenda. What more could he possibly do to help Russia?

    In Hungary nobody believes this spin about change in foreign policy, that’s for sure.

    Orban is an agent of Putin’s. He is a like a good vassal, or rather like the cselédek, not the urban domestic servants, but the rural servants, landless class/communities of workers living on the estate of aristocrats doing various services around the estate. This is the mentality Orban knows intimately, because he comes from this culture.

  6. It is quite funny to watch the desperate cries and frustration of the Hungary haters. You just reek of desperation, but what will you do now, when the next State Visit from Russia to Hungary, will be in about 7 years (the last visit was in 2006…) . You will have nothing to work with, nothing to distort or lie about.

    This was your big chance and you blew it. The visit was unintresting and no major announcements came from Putin and pretty much nobody is buying your propaganda right now.

    Recently people in the USA seemed quite positive about the prospects of improving the Hungary-USA links.

    What will you do if connections improve further with the USA? Will you cry real tears? Now you don’t even have a good friend who would repeat your positions to the public and in the newspapers.

    I almost wish Hungary would buy american made Blackhawk helicopters just so I could watch you feel all that rage and cry out in frustration as you see American diplomats praise Hungary and that deal.

  7. @gond, you know as I do that Hungary will never buy US weaponry because no politician will want to depend too much on the US and certainly not Orban. I hope Americans don’t believe for a second that they have a chance at this tender. Orban’s pals will ask for the bribes, sorry, I meant token contributions to worthy social causes in rural Hungary, but will never deliver no matter what assurances they will give.

    Putin may not come back soon to Budapest, but Orban may well travel to Moscow again, he’s been a regular visitor to the Kreml in the last few years.

    The relationship between the US and Hungary may improve because I can imagine that Orban and his people fooled the State Department yet again, they wouldn’t be the first one in history to double cross the Americans repeatedly.

    Nothing was blown, I think it became awfully clear to everybody that Orban is Putin’s vassal.

    The big question is whether Hungary should remain in the NATO just because Hungary may send (will not, of course, but we can say we may do so) 5 military doctors against ISIS when otherwise Orban is a personal servant of a dictator who designates NATO as its mortal enemy. You tell me.

  8. @Hahn, the issue is not about honoring soldiers. The issue is that by laying flowers at the foot of a monument that’s inscription is a historical falsification and by Putin’s using the event to bolster his standing with Russian nationalists, the event was not about honoring soldiers.

  9. Webber,

    Ah, so you don’t have an answer to the points I made, so you’re going to attack me personally some more! Okay, I can once again point out how wrong you are.

    You wrote: “you do not and cannot know what the “great Hungarian public” feels about the issue you were discussing”.

    You’re wrong, it’s quite clear what the Hungarian public thinks about something like this, since it’s obvious, as many, many people on this blog have already pointed out. If you continue to insist that we have no way of knowing how it appears, and therefore how people view it, you’re just going to continue to make yourself look like a fool, or someone who desperately doesn’t want to admit that he is wrong. Go ahead, tell me again how Hungarians are going to believe that it’s just a huge coincidence that Goodfriend leaves at exactly this moment, without giving us any other excuse than “personal reasons”, which, coincidentally, is the exact same reason that politicians and CEO’s give when they don’t want to admit that they are quitting under pressure or because they can’t continue to do their job for whatever reason. I can’t believe I used to think you were a reasonable person!

    You also wrote: “would certainly tell you that there is no unanimity”

    When did I ever claim “unanimity”? You are seriously desperate now!

    You also wrote: “you claimed you knew what most Hungarians think about something so irrelevant to most of their lives that most of them probably haven’t thought of it at all.”

    Your reading comprehension skills are atrocious. I was obviously talking about only those Hungarians with an opinion. Re-read the post, and you’ll see that I even put in parentheses “or at least those who are paying attention”. Besides, if you read carefully, you’ll see that before that, I wrote “what matters is what most Hungarians believe”. That is not a claim by me that I know what they believe. I was just saying that public opinion is what counts, so the State Department should act accordingly, unless they are completely ignorant or made a deal with Orbán. I went on to say that I doubt that they are completely ignorant.

    You wrote: “Are you privy to information direct from the State Department?”

    Are you capable of understanding anything that wasn’t written for a child? I never wrote that I “know” anything, as I pointed out to your intellectual equal, gybognarjr. I wrote “I’m sure” and “I don’t believe”. I challenge you to quote a passage anywhere on this blog where I claim to know anything more about the US State Department than you or anyone else does. Of course, you will ignore this challenge, even though you went to extra lengths to try to smear me in this instance.

    You also wrote: “My assumption is that ‘they’ aren’t lying”

    Well, you can assume what you want, but you shouldn’t proclaim it in public. I, on the other hand, am using logic and the experience that comes with reading the news regularly to come to a different conclusion. Let’s take a poll and see who agrees with whom. Oh, right, polls are useless, according to you!

    You also wrote: “You claim to ‘know’ differently.”

    Where, exactly? You’re losing what little integrity you had left.

    You also wrote: “If not, see my comment above about naivete.”

    Ah, yes, you feel that the naive person is the one who doesn’t believe a diplomat when he explains away a huge coincidence with “personal reasons”. Well, now your not-so-clever comment about naivete has gained new meaning.

    You also wrote: “the mushroom bit was poetic”. Look up the word “poetic” in a dictionary, if you can manage. You’re using it wrong here. What you meant to say was “sarcastic”, but certainly not “clever”.

    You wrote: “If you find that insulting, I apologize.”

    Why apologise for something that you fully intended to accomplish? If you protest that you did not intend to insult me, then you are not only childish and incapable of adult debate, you are disingenuous.

    If you find anything I have written to you to be insulting, I don’t care, and won’t apologise.

  10. @googly, sorry, but you’ve lost it.
    WHO knows how the majority of Hungarians feel about Goodfriend and the whole scandal??? WHEN was a poll taken?
    WHAT in the world are you talking about?

  11. “Lets take a poll” – Googly, that would be a first for you. All I’d like to ask you is to stop presenting yourself as an authority who “knows” what the majority of Hungarians is thinking. Cite poll data, by all means, if a poll has been done. Otherwise, please get off that high horse.

  12. Webber,

    Oh, I see, my post was too long for you to read, so you just ignored most of it. I’ll break it down for you.

    You wrote: “All I’d like to ask you is to stop presenting yourself as an authority who “knows” what the majority of Hungarians is thinking.”

    I never did any such thing. Quote from my comment where I did that. If you can’t, slither back under your rock.

    You wrote: “Cite poll data,…”

    You were the one trying to say that polls mean nothing. I was making fun of you for that. I guess it was too complicated. I won’t be so subtle again with you.

    You wrote: ” sorry, but you’ve lost it.”

    You can’t seem to understand what I wrote, so all I’ve lost is the ability to dumb it down enough for you to understand it.

    You wrote: “WHO knows how the majority of Hungarians feel about Goodfriend and the whole scandal??? WHEN was a poll taken?”

    I never claimed to know that, nor did I claim there was ever a poll. If I did, then you should quote me. Since you can’t, you have no argument. I merely said that what matters is what the Hungarian people who pay attention to such things think, and by that I implied that they would think (rightly so, based on everything I have read so far, except your inane, defensive comments) that this was a win for Orbán.

    Meanwhile, you refused to take up my challenge. Perhaps you missed it, since you could not possibly have read my entire comment and still seriously given the responses (two of them!) that you gave. I’ll reiterate it (that means “write it again”):

    I challenge you to quote a passage anywhere on this blog where I claim to know anything more about the US State Department than you or anyone else does.

    I’ll write it again, more loudly, maybe you won’t miss it a third time:

    I CHALLENGE YOU TO QUOTE A PASSAGE ANYWHERE ON THIS BLOG WHERE I CLAIM TO KNOW ANYTHING MORE ABOUT THE US STATE DEPARTMENT THAN YOU OR ANYONE ELSE DOES.

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